Europe is often referred to as the ‘old continent’ for good reason. In many states governmental institutions date back centuries. It can take years for new approaches and concepts to become ingrained in society and even longer for rules and regulations to catch up with the modern world.

The emerging cannabis industry in particular is struggling against past dogma.

In European countries, the hemp industry somehow managed to survive despite the global ‘War on Drugs’ and the demonisation of cannabis sativa that came with it. However, this misguided war took its toll on production, especially for companies looking to focus on the health-related uses of cannabinoids and terpenes. And even more so on hemp farmers looking to eek out a living growing this versatile crop.

In France, famous for having some of the most draconian policies in Europe where cannabis is concerned (despite being one of Europe’s highest consumers of the drug), two major factors are seriously holding back this burgeoning industry.

First of all, France is part of the European Union, not a bad thing in itself, but it means they are held to European legislation regarding farming. All farmers within European states are restricted to a catalogue of around 70 industrial hemp strains. These strains are great for paper, cloth, plastics, rope and other manufacturing uses, but the cannabinoid and terpene profiles were never considered when these policies were created.

As all hemp grown in the majority of European states is limited to strains under 0.2% THC it has an impact on the levels of other useful cannabinoids such as CBD or CBG found in the plant. A higher THC limit seems to increase other cannabinoids making the plants better suited for therapeutic use.

Secondly, “French hemp farmers are obliged to destroy the flowers of their crops,” explains Laure Bougen, CEO of French cosmetic and beauty product startup Ho Karan. “It’s like allowing chickens, but outlawing eggs, making hemp not an economically interesting crop here.”

In several European states, including France and the UK, hemp farmers are legally obliged to destroy their flowers and leaves. Unfortunately the flowers are where the majority of cannabinoids and terpenes would be found in a hemp plant. This is a policy failure of epic proportions as it makes hemp, that could be an environmentally beneficial and lucrative crop, not economically viable for farmers in these countries.

“We have to import all our cannabinoids and terpenes from other European countries that are allowed to process their flowers, such as Czechia and Spain. Meanwhile, French farmers are producing the most hemp in Europe,” explains Laure.

If the French government were to reverse this outdated rule they would be one of the market leaders and able to capitalise on a highly lucrative crop. But as it stands, France’s ban on the processing of hemp flowers grants an ideal opportunity to other producers around Europe and North America. Hemp production during this time of increasing demand would not only be an economic win it would also be an environmental boost. Which apparently is something Macron is concerned about.

Ho Karan, originates from Brittany, a region in the north-west of France, where the brand has production facilities and was founded in 2017.

Hemp has been in the Bougen family since the 60s when Laure’s grandparents grew it as a crop in Brittany. She was taught about the benefits of hemp from an early age and became fascinated by the medicinal properties of the plant whilst in business school. Ultimately, this lead to the launch of Ho Karan, meaning ‘I love you’ in the local Breton dialect.

Despite the hurdles that French policy currently presents to hemp products, Ho Karan continues to see growing success. Their 10 employees are spread between Brittany and Paris. They are selling their range of cosmetics in 12 European countries; including France, Germany, Italy and Poland.

Laure will be appearing on panels at the upcoming Cannabis Europa events in Toronto and New York, where she will be discussing the challenges European entrepreneurs face as they foster cutting edge companies within the ‘old continent’, and of course the international opportunities they are looking for in more hospitable environments.

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