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Australian state reviews cannabis law as stakeholders say rules are too strict

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The government on the Australian island of Tasmania has indicated that it will review industrial hemp law amid concerns from stakeholders that current rules and regulations are hampering the industry.

“The government is reviewing the Industrial Hemp Act 2015 to ensure that regulation continues to support the needs of the industry,” Jay Barnett, Minister for Primary Industries and Water, said before the Australian Industrial Hemp Conference in Launceston last week. “We have worked closely with industry to establish the law, and we will do the same through this review,” Barnett said.

Tasmania grows nearly a third of the industrial hemp plant in Australia, with the farm gate estimated to be worth about A$5 million ($3.75 million / €3.4 million) registered in 2019-20. Tim Schmidt, president of the Australian Hemp Council, a national trade group, said strict restrictions on the use of cannabis flowers have limited production of primarily nutritional seeds.

CBD prescription only

CBD derived from flowers is only available through the country’s prescription drug regime, which also governs Australia’s legal medical marijuana program.

Schmidt, who estimates that federal regulatory reforms could increase the value of the Australian hemp industry fivefold to meet the growing demand for hemp raw materials needed for emerging industries.

The Tasmanian Department of Natural Resources and Environment said current regulations focused on distinguishing between hemp and medicinal and illegal cannabis crops have worked well, but stakeholders say the change is needed to take advantage of maturing markets and consumer interest in sustainable products and changing consumer attitudes toward cannabis. For starters, Tasmanian farmers say reforms are needed to help make a clearer distinction between marijuana and hemp.

Where are the possibilities?

Schmidt sees potential in hemp-based health and beauty products, natural pesticides and mulch, opportunities he said could attract pent-up investment into the sector.

“There are some great markets emerging globally that we can’t tackle because of the restrictions,” Schmidt said.

The Tasmanian government has said it will review existing regulations to explore changes that could open up new cannabis sub-sectors, reassess programs that support the growth of the industry, and assess how existing industrial hemp law aligns with other cannabis laws.

ideal conditions

Barnett said Tasmanian conditions are ideal for growing hemp. “We have the right climate, the possibility of irrigation, and a good reputation in crop security,” the minister said.

Since 2018, the state government has committed more than A$320,000 to support the Tasmanian Hemp Association (THA) through communications, product development, education and marketing initiatives to grow the industry. This month THA received A$100,000 from the government’s Strategic Industry Partnership project to educate consumers about the health benefits of hemp foods.

This is in addition to the A$150,000 committed by the government in 2021 to partner with AgriFutures Australia to support Tasmania’s participation in a three-year national cannabis trial initiative aimed at identifying varieties best suited to Australian conditions.

Although hemp has long been cultivated in Australia, with raw materials and final goods – mainly hemp seeds – being exported to countries such as Japan, the USA and Korea, hemp producers are now expanding the local market to produce both grain and straw. Australia designated hemp as food only in late 2017 after 15 years of efforts by stakeholders.

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