How big is the industrial hemp sector in Tasmania?
Industrial hemp has been grown in Tasmania since 1991 for the purpose of grain (seed) production.
There are two businesses that contract Tasmanian farmers to grow industrial hemp seed operating in Tasmania: New Zealand-based Midlands Seeds and Hemp Australia.
The 2014-15 season has 11 licensed growers in Tasmania with around 120 hectares of land committed to industrial hemp. The yields from industrial hemp are comparable to canola, with a gross margin of around $1300 per hectare.
While the industry is small, the Government sees that it has real potential as a rotation crop, especially if hemp is allowed in food products.
Why is a licence required to grow industrial hemp?
All Australian States and Territories manage the industrial hemp industry via a licensing system. In the same way, all growers and processors of industrial hemp in Tasmania need to be licensed, and all crops must be tested to ensure they conform to the THC threshold.
This threshold provides a clear boundary between what is legal and what is not.
Why are we making changes to the way industrial hemp is regulated?
The Tasmanian Government recognises that the industrial hemp industry has great potential for growth and job creation. In January 2015 it announced plans to help the sector to grow by committing to cut red tape and simplifying the regulation of the industry.
What reforms have already taken place?
Two key policy measures streamlining licensing and promoting industry development were introduced in January 2015:
- Government immediately extended licencing from one year to five years to give farmers more certainty and allow them to get on with the job of growing the crop; and
- Government increased the allowable THC threshold from 0.35 to 1.0 to bring the State in line with New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT and allow for easier trade of material.
These measures are currently determined at the discretion of the Minister.
Why do we need this legislation?
The proposed legislation clarifies these measures in statute and provides transparency for industry. It also provides certainty that any changes to licensing obligations will only be possible through legislative amendment, which will promote confidence in the integrity of the licensing arrangements.
The proposed legislation supports growth of the industrial hemp sector through simplified regulation without any compromise to policing of illicit cannabis. The new legislation is also consistent with the Government’s commitment to reduce red tape for industry.
Industrial hemp is currently regulated under the Poisons Act 1971 which does not recognise that industrial hemp is a safe, commercial agricultural crop that has no value as a drug.
Why is the Government undertaking further consultation now?
The Government wants to get feedback from industry and the Tasmanian community to ensure that the proposed legislation is fit-for-purpose to simplify regulation of the industrial hemp sector without any compromise to drug law enforcement.
Does the Government address the recommendations in the 2012-2013 House of Assembly Inquiry into the Industrial Hemp Industry in Tasmania?
Yes. The only recommendation that is not supported is the random testing of industrial hemp crops. (See below).
Why is random testing of industrial crops not supported?
Tasmania Police does not support random testing of a percentage of industrial hemp crops as it will not provide the level of scrutiny and absolute guarantee that this fledgling industry demands.
The Industrial Hemp Association of Tasmania supports the sampling and testing of all industrial hemp crops. Sampling and testing of all crops will continue.
Who will undertake the sampling and testing?
The Poppy Advisory and Control Board (PACB) field officers currently collect samples from all licenced industrial hemp crops and this will continue under the proposed legislation.
Testing for THC levels is undertaken by authorised laboratories and is paid for by the grower or wholesaler – depending on their contractual arrangements.
Will the industrial hemp legislation address medicinal cannabis?
No. Medicinal cannabis is a completely separate issue to industrial hemp and should be dealt with as such.
The industrial hemp review has been confused in the media with the introduction of medicinal cannabis crops in Tasmania.
Industrial hemp refers to those cannabis varieties that contain less than 1.0 % THC. There are no psychoactive effects at this level of THC.
Do industrial hemp crops pose a risk to drug law enforcement?
No. Industrial hemp has been grown in Tasmania since 1991.
Industrial hemp can only be grown by licensed growers who can only grow designated low-THC varieties.
Does industrial hemp look different to other forms of cannabis?
No. There are many different varieties of Cannabis which vary in their THC content from very low levels (<1.0 per cent) to very high levels (>25 per cent). Many of these varieties are visually indistinguishable from one another and require a laboratory test to determine the THC content.
Did the change to higher THC levels impact on law enforcement?
No. The raising of this threshold to 1.0 per cent is still be well below the level at which any psychoactive impact is encountered.
What happens to a crop that exceeds the THC threshold?
All crops are tested prior to harvesting and any crops that exceed the maximum threshold are required to be destroyed.
In Tasmania no licensed crops have ever exceeded the maximum allowable THC threshold.
All crops will continue to be tested under the proposed legislation.
What is the position on hemp as a food?
This is effectively an Australian Government matter not a State decision. However the Tasmanian Government strongly supports the lifting of the ban on the use of industrial hemp products for human consumption, and will continue to advocate for industrial hemp products in food.
Human consumption of cannabis products is currently prohibited under the Australia New Zealand Food Safety Code.
The Tasmanian Government has worked hard at the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum) for the ban to be lifted. Most recently in July 2015 this Forum agreed to accelerate work being undertaken into the concerns of some other jurisdictions in relation to low THC-hemp for use in food. The Tasmanian Government will continue to push for the Forum to reconsider a case for lifting the ban as quickly as possible.
In Australia cannabis derived products can only be used topically, that is for external application (massage oils, soaps, cosmetics and the like).
Countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland and Spain allow the consumption of industrial hemp seed and hemp seed oil as a food, whilst New Zealand allows the consumption of hemp seed oil only.
Will research be able to be undertaken on varieties of cannabis that exceed the maximum THC threshold?
The proposed legislation provides for a special research licence that will allow for research to be undertaken by registered persons on varieties of cannabis plants that exceed the maximum THC threshold. Research will enable industry development.