Changes to hemp industry in works

IF a week is a long time in politics, a year is an eternity for those who want the freedom to grow industrial hemp commercially, as part of their cropping rotation.

But a House of Assembly Committee report into the industry tabled in Parliament a few weeks ago has left Industrial Hemp Association of Tasmania president Phil Reader, of Bishopsbourne, optimistic industrial hemp will become like any other rotation crop in Tasmania ``in the not-too-distant future''.

The committee found that there was unlikely to be a viable industrial hemp industry in Tasmania unless restrictive regulatory impediments were removed and believed there should be as few regulatory restrictions as possible.

Some of the recommendations include:

 The state government lobby for the removal of the ban on the use of low THC hemp in food.

 A simpler regulatory system be introduced.

 Responsibility for industry regulation be given to the Department of Primary Industries.

 A consistent, country-wide allowable THC threshold for industrial hemp of 1 per cent in grown material and 0.5 per cent in certified seed.

 Low THC industrial hemp be removed from regulation under the Poisons Act 1971 and not be subject to the Misuse of Drugs Act 2001.

Mr Reader said some of the recommendations needed a little tidying up, but all were positive.

``We can grow industrial hemp under licence at the moment, but we have to satisfy five different departments - Primary Industries, Health, Police, Justice and Economic Development - before we get permission to grow,'' he said.

``But if they follow through on the recommendations in the report - and that's what we're working hard on - industrial hemp will be a lot easier to grow.

``The final barrier is getting politicians to accept it as suitable for human consumption, as is recommended by the report by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

``Industrial hemp oil is already allowed to be used for human consumption in New Zealand, which comes under the same food safety organisation, FSANZ.''

Mr Reader said there was about 100 hectares of industrial hemp cultivated in Tasmania this year.

``That's potentially 100 tonnes of clean seed suitable for pressing - a number of crops achieved in excess of a tonne to the hectare last year,'' he said.

``Seed brought about $3000 a tonne last year, which represents a good return on investment.

``Industrial hemp has a relatively short growing time - planted in November  and harvested at the beginning of March - has low input costs compared with other crops and is beneficial to the ground.

``You can follow industrial hemp with any crop you like. We've had no problems with any crops that followed industrial hemp and we've planted, potatoes after, poppies after, even poppies before - it makes no difference.''

Mr Reader said  a less regulated industrial hemp regime had the potential to be as beneficial to the state's economy as any other single crop.

``It won't happen overnight because you need time to build up your seed and the infrastructure for downstream processing, but once it's freed up, rules and regulation-wise, it makes it a lot easier for people to see a positive in downstream processing and take that on,'' he said.

``There's been a lot of interest, but it's all too hard at the moment because of the regulations - people don't want to commit themselves until they can see where the industry's going.''

Mr Reader said  some industry regulation could be a good thing from a quality assurance point of view.

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