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Trial cultivation of industrial hemp - With Q&A

27 April 2001 Media Statement

Trial cultivation of industrial hemp

EMBARGOED TO 1.30PM, FRIDAY, 27 APRIL

Health Minister Annette King today announced the cultivation of trial plots of industrial hemp would be allowed under strict guidelines.

The decision to allow the trial cultivation in New Zealand follows a recent decision by the New South Wales Department of Agriculture to allow similar trials to proceed.

"Hemp, regardless of how it is used, falls within the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. For this reason, careful consideration has been given to ensuring that the application and monitoring procedures for cultivation of industrial hemp provides the appropriate protection for all involved," Mrs King said.

"A key component of any licence to run a trial plot will be allowing officials access to the cultivation site, as well as random sampling and provision of data. This will allow us to ensure THC concentrations in plants in trial plots are well below that which might aggravate potential issues under the Act."

Mrs King said the guidelines had been supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Economic Development, Customs, police, Te Puni Kokiri, and ESR. The initiative was also supported by Federated Farmers and the NZ Hemp Industries Association.

Issues of disposal and destruction of harvested material would also need careful monitoring, she said. "Applicants will be required to provide full details of disposal and destruction, as well as to explain how they will deal with regrowth from harvested plants and plants grown from germination of seed produced by the trial plants."

Mrs King said cultivation of industrial hemp was something completely new for New Zealand, and as long as the process for applications and ongoing management was controlled, successful trials could open lucrative new markets.
"The controls we have put in place are there for the safety and benefit of all involved," she said.

ENDS

Questions & Answers

Who is able to grow industrial hemp?
Anyone who is able to demonstrate that they meet appropriate criteria; that they are a suitable person; are able to grow the crop without it being tampered with; that they can meet the crop trial reporting requirements and have appropriate technical expertise.

How long are the trials for?
Licences are issued for one year. The trial will be run for two growing seasons (two years).

How much can each individual trialist grow?
There is no set limit for each trial licence but each licensee must justify the size of the crop and the end use of the crop and security features are likely to be limiting factors for large individual crops.

Where will seeds be sourced from?
Sourcing and purchasing of the seeds will be up to those involved in the trial. However, seeds must meet the import health standard to ensure they are for low THC (active ingredient) industrial hemp and have demonstrated ability to maintain low THC levels when cultivated. An Industrial Hemp Import Health Standard has been prepared by MAF and is being circulated for comment. It is likely to be finalised by mid June. An import Health Standard is a certificate allowing the import of the material under certain conditions.

What assurances are there for the public that the industrial hemp will be trialed securely?
Each applicant must file a detailed security plan that will be scrutinised by the inter-agency working group to ensure that adequate security is in place to protect the crop.

Will industrial hemp be able to be used for illicit purposes?
No. The level of THC for industrial hemp must be less than 0.35% of the dry weight of the plant - and in some varieties will be even less. The level of THC is roughly ten to twenty times lower than that found in illicit cannabis cigarette and would not give anyone consuming it a “high”

What is industrial hemp used for?
Insulation, textiles, cosmetics, oils and rope are the most common uses

What have similar trials in overseas countries shown?
They have shown that properly conducted trials are important for assessing if the crop can be grown successfully. In some countries (Canada and the UK) this has led to the establishment of Hemp Industries. The trials in Australia have had only limited success.

Why is the crop being trialed in NZ?
To evaluate if the crop can be successfully grown here and what varieties are most suitable for our conditions. They are a simple agricultural trial and will not establish if a crop is commercially viable.

Isn't it against the law to grow hemp (cannabis); are the trials legal?
It is against the law to grow cannabis unless you have a licence approved by the Minister of Health.

What happens when the trials are concluded in two years time?
They will be evaluated and if they have been successful the Working Group will consider what restrictions need to be placed on commercial cultivation. The working group membership has representation from the Ministry of Health, MAF, Customs, Ministry of Economic Development, Police, ESR and Te Puni Kokiri.

What measures are in place to prevent genetically modified seeds for industrial hemp coming into the country?
Seed importers have a legal obligation under the HASNO Act administered by ERMA to not import genetically modified seeds unless specific authorisation has been given by ERMA. The Government is not aware of any GM hemp seed being grown commercially overseas.

Will seed crops be able to be grown in the trial?
Yes.

What special restrictions are placed on seed crops?
Seed crops will require tighter security and measures to prevent regrowth.

What is being done to prevent contamination (by unwanted crops) coming to NZ in industrial hemp seeds?
The seed standard requires measures to be taken to eliminate any plant or insect pests.

How do we ensure the industrial hemp crops are not tampered with?
It is up to the licensee to ensure that adequate security is in place. Any tampering must be reported to the Ministry of Health or the Police.

How is security enforced?
There will be random audits of sites to check that they have the necessary provisions in place.

How will authorities be able to ensure that illicit cannabis is not being grown under the guise of low THC industrial hemp or as part of the crop?
This will be evident on the audit and also from sampling and testing.

What assurance do we have that industrial hemp will not become a noxious weed?
There is no evidence of this happening anywhere else but at the end of each trial all unused matter has to be destroyed.

What testing is done to ensure industrial hemp remains a low THC product?
Licencees must provide samples for testing prior to harvest but random audits will be done too. Any crops with THC level over 0.35% by dry weight may have to be destroyed.

How much will it cost the Government to run the trials?
The trials are being funded by the applicants themselves.

How much will it cost individuals to take part in the trial?
The trial should be regarded as a research and development investment as growers determine which are the best cultivars (seed varieties) for the New Zealand climate and how best it should be grown. The Hemp Association estimates it may cost as much as $35,000 to $50,000 per hectare to grow initially, depending on capital outlay for equipment.

How does this compare with growing and harvesting other crops?
Barley (feed) would cost $1000 to $1500 per hectare

How is the crop disposed of?
If there is no end use - such as cloth or insulation - the crop is destroyed.

What happens when crops are destroyed?
The crops are either burned or ploughed back into the soil. This is carried out under supervision by Ministry of Health officials.


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