There have been several reports from within the UK cannabis community over the last few weeks that seed packages from European distributors and seed banks are arriving with their contents, phone number, and email address clearly visible on the outside of the package.
The reason for the change is all to do with how Brexit is affecting importation rules. As the UK has now left the European Union market – the single largest trading block in the world. We no longer benefit from the free movement of goods within the EU. Consequently, goods imported to the UK now have to follow additional regulations including packaging, customs, and importation rules that mean that the contents must clearly be labeled on the invoice attached to the package.
A few wholesalers are reporting having packages seized at the border with one being told that “if you want your box you’ll have to go to court”. This has meant that several of the big seed banks have now announced that they will be stopping deliveries to the UK until the issue is resolved.
During my investigation for this blog, I was made aware of another potentially huge negative consequence of Brexit on the UK cannabis industry. Namely, changes to the rules that govern importing cannabis and hemp seeds.
The cannabis seed industry has been able to function in the UK for decades as seeds have been designated as ‘souvenirs’ and ‘collectibles’. It is the act of germination and cultivating the seed that breaks the law. This has given the cannabis seed industry a nice gray-area to operate and grow into a rather robust and profitable industry.
As the rules stand today, all plants or plant products (including seeds) that cross an international border must be accompanied by a valid Phytosanitary certificate. This is to ensure that they have been inspected and contain no pests or diseases. This inspection and sign off must be complete in the origin country within 14 days of importation.
It is not yet fully clear if these regulations will include cannabis seeds. I can however tell you that from the correspondences that I have seen from various companies to the Animal and Plant Health Authority (APHA) and other agencies – they do not have a clue what is going on.
Although there are many UK-based seed banks, they typically get their bulk wholesale seeds from European breeders and distributors in countries like Spain and Switzerland. This means that there may very well be seed shortages here in the UK this year.
Post-Brexit the UK has to decide how to regulate the commercial sale of cannabis seeds. It is clear from conversations that I have had with some seed companies that these regulations have not been considered by the British government when agreeing to the 11th-hour deal. This gives us the golden opportunity to design a framework that protects an industry that so many jobs are dependent on.
Freedom Seeds, a Portsmouth-based seed bank issued a public statement a few days ago stating that would have to cease giving away free seeds with orders. This is due to having a shipment of wholesale seeds seized by UK customs.
A UK seed company that I spoke to has been getting around this by getting their seeds imported with other goods that are the only thing declared on the invoice – which is possibly Illegal and highly unsustainable for a legitimate company.
Another method for procuring seeds post-Brexit could be to fly over to Europe and bring them back personally, however, this could incur additional taxes or import fees and still require a Phytosanitary certificate.
All this comes on the back of a multi-million Euro raid on POT SISTEMAK SL group, the organization that produces seeds for La Mota, Dinafem, and Humboldt seeds were hit by Operation Inxer-Toro. The Spanish Medicines Agency (AEDM) ordered the Guardia civil and the tax authority to conduct an operation to stop the company’s activities in the region – culminating in the raids last September.
“We are not criminals. We buy seeds and we sell them. We have been doing this for 21 years. We are one of the most important seed banks in Spain and Europe and we distribute more than a hundred brands. We are obliged to be audited because we have a turnover of more than ten million euros and they have never taken anything out, we pay our taxes every year, we go to international fairs around the world whole to exhibit our seeds for 17 years… All we ask is justice” – One of the arrest managers at POT SISTEMAK SL Group
11 cannabis grow facilities are reported to of been dismantled as part of the operation. Along with the seizure of an estimated 20 million cannabis seeds that have an estimated value of 100 million Euros.
The combination of this raid and Brexit could prove to be fatal to some seed banks and breeders around the world that have relied on the up until now relaxed attitude of Spanish authorities to produce the seeds of many of the cultivars that have now become everyday household names.
Regardless of your politics, this new post-Brexit era that we find ourselves in is going to take quite some time to adjust to. So stock up on your favourite strain and start making friends with people that supply cuttings!