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Tony Reeves of EIHA: cannabis has been an exciting journey

Home » Tony Reeves of EIHA: cannabis has been an exciting journey

Fate, serendipity, luck? My hemp journey started through a combination of all three, and of all the journeys I have embarked on throughout my career, this has been by far the most challenging, exciting and satisfying, of that, I am sure! 

Back in 2014, I was European MD of a meat-free business, selling a range of vegetarian burgers, mince, balls and so on. We had achieved some nice distribution with listings in the Co-operative supermarket, Holland & Barrett, and a major own-label supply contract with Tesco. Ironically, for a number of reasons, I wasn’t a particular fan of soya (the main ingredient) and started to explore alternative plant proteins. 

One morning over breakfast, for some reason my wife said “what about hemp?” Now at the time, like most people, I had of course heard of hemp but (again like many people) I had a limited understanding of its incredible range of applications. This is best defined by the three statements I was to hear many times in the months to come. 

“It’s a good fishing bait, isn’t it?” – yes is it! “We used to make rope from it didn’t we?” – yes we did! And perhaps the most common misconception: “Can’t you smoke it (followed often by a knowing wink)” – not if you are looking for the effect that I think you are! 

Read more: Maximum THC limit in foods adopted by EU

On day one of my research, I found this nice guy in Phoenix who had a patent for the extraction of protein from hemp seed – and this was the launch of my ‘hemp journey’ proper, as he put me in touch with some equally nice people in Vancouver who, it appears, had started the Canadian hemp seed industry some 15 years earlier. This family business was called ‘Hempco’ but later become part of ‘Aurora Cannabis’ and was renamed ‘Aurora Hemp.’ After several conversations and several months, I met with the family and was so impressed by their passion, mission and the opportunities represented by this amazing plant that I joined them with responsibility for the European expansion. 

| already had lots of contacts and great relationships across the commercial sector, so getting meetings at a senior level was not a problem. However, I soon discovered that the level of understanding around hemp and its benefits was similar to mine at the start of my journey, i.e. tending towards zero (if you discount the aforementioned cliches!). So, I had now become a ‘hemp educator/evangelist’ not through design but through necessity! 

Later, through another stroke of luck, I met another nice guy (lots of these in our industry as I have discovered) called Jacek Kramarz, who introduced me to CBD – now I was aware of it (and suitably impressed by it), but I was so busy lecturing anyone who would listen on the nutritional benefits of hemp seed and its derivatives that I had done little research on this aspect. Next day (not really, but it felt like it!) | was on a plane to Poland and my passion/obsession with CBD began  – and has been developing ever since!

Events soon accelerated, I become part of EIHA’s Advisory team, began representing the industry (with Catherine Wilson) to UK regulators including the FSA, the Home Office and notably helped shift the MHRA position away from would have been a de-facto ‘ban’ on CBD supplements back in 2016. At the European level contributed to the production of various papers and was part of the EIHA delegation to Brussels – this was a presentation to the PAFF Committee on the subject of Novel Foods. 

Over the last few years, my passion for the plant and my dedication to the industry has only intensified to the point that it feels like a moral duty to contribute – let’s face it, the people, the planet and the economy need it like never before! 

In previous lives I was a government scientist, ran my own laboratory business and was marketing director for one of Europe’s leading Food & Drink research associations; one of the many things I love about the hemp industry is that it allows me to combine my scientific and business background to best affect – a perfect marriage! 

Currently, I am particularly involved in all things CBD and increasingly the minor cannabinoids such as CBG. I am still closely engaged with the FSA and the Home Office and have built some good relationships with parliamentarians and Whitehall. I am a member of the UKAS-led ‘CBD Food Product Approval Expert Group’ the Food & Drink Federations CBD Working Group’ and consultant with several UK, European and North American organisations including THG (market cap £3.9bn). 

So, my hemp journey was never planned, but once started, the road ahead was brightly lit, and I am absolutely sure the most exciting part of the story is yet to be written – and I hope to be one of the co-authors! 

Tony Reeves
Board member

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