Cannad’Our has been growing hemp since 1995 at the farm in Kolbach, northeast Luxembourg. The farm is seen during a visit by Delano on 12 July 2018.
Photo: Matic Zorman
A Luxembourg farmer who diversified over 20 years ago is hoping to reap the benefits of a new law.
Once the mainstay of the Luxembourg economy, today farming generates just 0.3% of GDP. Facing a sector in decline, Luxembourger Norbert Eilenbecker sought to diversify production at the Kolbach farm which has been in his family for over 500 years. His answer was a plant whose healing properties and versatility have been exploited for thousands of years--hemp. “Before 1994, there was a ban on growing industrial hemp but then a law was passed. We didn’t know anything about this plant. It was really learning by doing,” Eilenbecker said.
He dedicated part of the Cannad’Our farm production to pesticide-free hemp in 1995 with a view to using the fibres for industrial manufacture. What followed was something of a baptism of fire because the fibres were too strong for any harvesting or processing machines to handle. He persevered and it took around 10 years to see any kind of return on investment in the scheme.
Today the farm sells teas, seeds and cannabidiol or CBD oil, which has many potential health benefits. The oil is permitted for sale in Luxembourg provided the amount of THC compound (which gives the mind-altering high associated with smoking cannabis) it contains is below 0.3%.
The tiny farm nestled next to the German border gradually attracted a following. Eilenbecker joined forces with André Steinmetz, today co-CEO, who helped set up a research project with the state laboratory to test CBD compound extracted from his plants on cancer cells.
More recently, they were joined by young entrepreneurs Christian Muno and Ben Barnich, who founded co-working space Bamhaus, and wanted to help promote the product. “My mother had cancer at one point and there was a discussion about using cannabis to treat her,” Muno said, adding: “That’s when I found out it was a really powerful plant that has been used for thousands of years.”
Over 23 years ago, the trailblazing farmer could never have predicted that Luxembourg would one day legalise the use of medical-based cannabis. But it did just that in June 2018, when deputies passed a law for its therapeutic use to treat cancer, sclerosis, neurodegenerative or chronic disease patients.
Under the initial law, starting the end of 2018 the medicine would be supplied by the Canada Cannabis Agency, however, the firm hopes to strike a deal to become a supplier. “There’s a certain willingness from the authorities to procure the products from here,” Barnich said, adding: “But they know better than us and there is no framework yet to have that.”
Eilenbecker adds that it would take at least a year to grow the crop on the scale required to become an official provider of such medicines. Even if Cannad’Our secured the deal to become a supplier, the battle would not be won.
The therapeutic use of medical cannabis remains marginal and would require considerable awareness-raising efforts among medical practitioners before being considered before conventional pharmaceutical medicines. “Some doctors are interested and others not at all. What we are seeing more and more is that people don’t want more (pharmaceutical) medicines,” Eilenbecker said.