‘Old plant – new thinking’ is a great tag line for the National Hemp Service, a hemp shop and cafe run by enterprising couple Chloe Kerslake-Smith and Tommy Corbyn. Based in North London, the National Hemp Service stocks a broad range of products including their own brand of CBD products. It also acts as the headquarters of the online store that sends orders across the UK daily and abroad on request.
However, it’s also a lot more than just a café and shop; National Hemp Service is a place for learning about hemp and cannabinoids. Chloe and Tommy are proud advocates for cannabis legalisation and a total overhaul of the UK drug laws and are on a mission to destigmatize this much undervalued and overlooked plant. We were keen to hear more, so we hooked up for a chat…
When asked what it was that inspired them to start the National Hemp Service, Tommy admitted that, for a very long time he has wanted to do something to publicly promote the many positives the cannabis plant has to offer. “I can’t think of a single other plant that has the ability to do such a wide array of things and yet it has been demonised for generations.” His mission is to do everything he can to show this incredible plant in a positive light and dispel some of the myths around it. He believes that there is no end to the number of people that cannabis can help and, the downsides to fully embracing it are few and far between. In years to come see cannabis, in its many different forms, playing a much bigger and better role in all of our everyday lives.
In his youth, Tommy was perplexed by the prohibition of cannabis. Growing up in London he admitted that cannabis use appeared to be everywhere, and universally accepted as being far less harmful than alcohol. Yet somehow it was still classed as illegal. In his opinion “…its legal status seemed to be used more as a tool for police to harass people they didn’t like the look of (often ethnic minorities), a far cry from any sort of harm reduction or benevolent care for people’s health.” Later on, and after he had learnt more about the plant, he came to the conclusion that its prohibition was more likely rooted in racism and influenced by the need to protect vested interests, and less to do with protecting people. This realisation is what ignited his passion for changing people’s perception of the incredible crop, and still drives him today.
Chloe on the other hand, first discovered the health benefits of cannabis when she unsuccessfully sought pain relief, initially through conventional routes. Prescribed daily painkillers left her with unpleasant side effects, but then she discovered the world of cannabinoids and extracts. She started taking CBD, first in chocolates, moving onto in oils, then balms. She realised the benefits and so recommended it to her friends and family and agreed that it “…really opened my eyes to the future of it. It’s so versatile, anyone can use a CBD extract in some way, everyone can benefit.” And like Tommy, she is baffled by the legal hypocrisy around cannabis.
Compared to our current government’s stance on cannabis use, both Tommy and Chloe believe the people of the UK are eager to embrace hemp and cannabis, and cite the commercial growing of cannabis on UK soil, which is then exported overseas, as one example of the hypocrisy of the current legal situation. As Chloe explained, “Our government stays quiet about the proven uses of the plant. Instead, they quietly issue licenses for commercial growers in Norfolk and such, so that they can profit from the international market. It astounds me every day that we’re Europe’s largest exporter of cannabis, yet we have it criminalised on our own streets.”
Tommy feels that our government and the political structures are being deliberately slow to address the cannabis issue, especially as there is now ample evidence from abroad showing that cannabis is a beneficial plant. Only when it’s legalised and made accessible for consumption and research, explains Tommy, will we know just how useful this plant could be. “But for the Tories to admit that they’d also have to address the last five decades of propaganda and punishment done in the name of criminalisation, so they’re dragging their heels as much as possible” asserts Tommy.
Undeterred by the current legal situation, Tommy and Chloe have sought to promote better understanding by throwing their energies into their National Hemp Service enterprise, and it seems to be working. They reach out to millions of cannabis users through their online presence, and their café and shop in Finsbury Park welcomes new visitors every day who are curious to learn more about the wonders of hemp and CBD.
On their National Hemp Service website, it proudly states that every product stocked has been carefully chosen by their founders for being ethical, sustainable, natural, and high quality. For Chloe, it is important that they celebrate this plant in the right way. The CBD market has boomed in the last few years with hundreds of products on the market but, there’s a huge variety in quality out there, “we want to show the best, so we look for genuinely effective products that are as ethical and sustainable as possible.” As they explained, their mission is simple: to present people with innovative hemp products that don’t damage the planet, something which Tommy feels very strongly about. “I want to prove that you can prioritise ethics and have a profitable business.”
Tommy was excited to share his current project with a British business called Solkiki, which creates delicious vegan chocolate infused with CBD. Their cacao beans are sourced via direct trade with farmers who set their own prices. They don’t use any animal products and they produce their chocolates by hand in Dorset, even working off-the-grid using renewable energy. A company like Solkiki, which shares Tommy’s and Chloe’s ethnics is something that inspires them to source and stock their products.
Tommy and Chloe, through their National Hemp Service projects, have created a great sense of community within the hemp and cannabis space where they have been active in awareness and education, advocating for the plant and against its restrictions. They explained that hemp is just one term for particular strains of Cannabis Sativa, and they don’t create a distinction between supporting hemp but not cannabis or vice versa.” This plant has a multitude of forms and a variety of uses and each of those should be explored to their fullest potential, that’s our goal.”
The pair take every opportunity to speak about the potential of cannabis and to combat the stigma that’s constantly churned out from higher authorities. For example, to raise awareness, Tommy planted cannabis seeds outside Scotland Yard with ‘Seed The Future’ campaign. He protested outside parliament with families demanding medical access, attended conferences, meetings and debates. “There’s a massive community of grassroots activists to get involved with and they’re the ones who’ve taught me the most.”
“We’ve met so many incredible people who are part of the community over the last few years. From local meetings at patient network clubs to big CBD expo’s like Product Earth and the CTA, it’s been so interesting to see how many different people are engaged with this plant in some way.”
Unfortunately, not everyone shares the same views, and the National Hemp Service has been the subject to some cynicism by reporters from the Daily Mail newspaper. Focusing on a negative view of the cannabis and hemp community is not something that’s going to deter Tommy. He feels that it’s simply a sign that he’s doing something right. “The majority of the British public support changing the law on cannabis, but the Daily Mail thrives on controversy and fear-mongering so, of course, they choose to demonise it when it suits them. The day they feature me positively is the day I’d reassess my life choices!”
So, what is coming up in the future for the National Hemp Service? We’ll leave the last word to Tommy, “I’m really excited to keep adding new and interesting products to our range. As the science evolves, so will we. We’ve partnered with some excellent UK businesses to create them and have some truly outstanding stuff on the way. Stay tuned!”
Visit the National Hemp Service website – https://nationalhempservice.co.uk/