Poland Embraces European Potential for Industrial Hemp

By Oliver Bennett, Contributing Writer to New Frontier Data

Hemp production in Poland is one of Europe’s current growth stories. Since 2018, it has increased its cultivation by almost 80% (from about 1,300 hectares (ha) in 2018 to an estimated 3000 ha this year), marking a steady increase over the past five years. 

Boasting the biggest landmass (312,685 sq. km) of any country in the Eastern Eurozone, Poland is demonstrating its potential to be one of the continent’s key hemp producers. Polish business analyst Polityka Insight reported the country’s farmers to have sold approximately PLN36 million zloty (USD$9.6 million) from industrial hemp agriculture, primarily for use in textiles, food, cosmetics, and construction.

Business is rising. With a population of approximately 37.8 million, Poland is the largest among Eastern Europe’s EU states (though neighbouring Ukraine surpasses it in landmass and population), and it is enjoying a great growth cycle: In 2013 the World Bank called it Poland’s “golden age” marked by its emerging markets, and dubbed Poland as the “next Germany”.

Such confidence in Poland’s institutions have now brought investment and interest from big cannabis industry players as Aurora and Canopy Growth. The Australian firm MGC Pharma is now engaged with Poland in conjunction with a local NGO called Cannabis House Association, moving the country forward in the global cannabis economy. In a reported $18.6 million deal, StillCanna acquired Olimax for cultivation of about 1,500 ha in Poland, expectedly to leverage profits to expand a CBD processing facility in Romania. HemPoland, acquired by The Green Organic Dutchman (TGOD) in 2018, claims to be the country’s first private company to obtain a state license to grow and manufacture hemp; despite some reported problems, it employs about 100 people at Olimax’s HQ in Gdansk. Polish exports reach overseas clients (such as the Bristol Hemp Company in the U.K.) through licensed agreements with the Polish government.

Hemp cultivation represents a growth industry in a country both entrepreneurial and conservative, helped by an energised population and a general sense of business optimism despite the disruptions of COVID-19 restrictions.

Specific to hemp production itself, the primary obstacle is regulatory uncertainty. Hemp in Poland is only allowed for use as textiles, chemicals, cellulose and paper, food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, building materials and seeds. CBD production carries its own bureaucratic wranglings, and CBD-based products must be classified as food products of non-animal origin.

In the current legal scenario, entrepreneurs involved in the cultivation of industrial hemp are also exposed to certain risks of legality if the THC limit is exceeded, though there are calls for the limit to be relaxed. Currently, hemp products must contain less than 0.2% THC, a nettlesome standard in bringing medical cannabis to market, despite patient demand from approximately 300,000 patients facing a product shortage. In a recently unveiled two-year government farming plan, Poland’s Ministry of Agriculture has recommended a new 1% allowable standard for THC, well beyond the most common international standard of 0.3%.

In a broader context, Poland is part of a trend towards growth for hemp cultivation in Central and Eastern Europe. A 2019 uptick in European industrial hemp cultivation saw that while France (with about 17,000 ha) remains the biggest producer, Estonia ranks second (with about 3,500 ha in 2016), with Romania ranking fourth and Lithuania (with 1,500 ha in 2018) at fifth, respectively. As can be seen from our chart (below) Poland is part of the top ten hemp producers across Europe.

Poland has had a long history of growing hemp. There was up to 30,000 ha cultivated in the 1960s, when Poland was part of the USSR and hemp was cultivated for fibre and weaving. After a dip from the 1980s to the 2000s, it has returned to higher levels.

The Polish government is working on a new common agricultural policy for 2021-2027, and reviewing its policy regarding hemp for pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and food applications. It is expected that a more extensive use of hemp for CBD will also emerge, though that ambition –already hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic – faces uncertainty given the European Commission (EC)’s recently announced but controversial plan not to classify CBD in its Novel Food Catalogue.

Such constraints to an otherwise growing industry will be on the agenda at the next Cannabizz Warsaw, now a three-year-old annual event which turns the Polish capital into what has been called the cannabis business capital of East-Central Europe. Pending conditions under the pandemic, the next one is slated for November.