Hemp industry leaders have called for cuts to regulation during testimony to Victoria’s Legislative Council Economy and Infrastructure Committee.
In May, Legalise Cannabis Victoria MPs Rachel Payne and David Ettershank introduced a motion to establish a parliamentary inquiry to explore the potential for the industrial hemp sector to bolster the state’s economy.
The committee has now begun investigating the barriers and opportunities in the industry and expects to table its final report and recommendations to parliament by November 15, 2023.
Currently there are just six growers cultivating a total of 169 hectares of hemp in the state, but the inquiry heard that could be greatly expanded.
Reason Party leader and former member for Northern Metropolitan Fiona Patten served on the 2020 Victorian Industrial Hemp Taskforce, formed during the 59th parliament.
She told the committee that Victoria should follow the lead of other states, such as Tasmania, and pass dedicated hemp laws.
“Regulatory reform doesn’t cost the government any money,” she said. “Queensland and Victoria are the only two states that treat the growing of hemp as a drug. Every other state has its own standalone Hemp Act, and it sees it as an industrial agricultural crop.”
Hemp can be used in the production of products including textiles, paper, building materials, abrasive chemicals, oils, food, inks and cosmetics.
Currently, Victorian growers must obtain a licence from Agriculture Victoria to authorise the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp and seed for non-therapeutic purposes.
Senior principal research scientist with the CSIRO Dr Stuart Gordon told the committee that some level of regulation, while creating an expense for growers, would still be needed.
“Regulation is important because you don’t want cross contamination of that crop,” he said. “You don’t want a high-THC crop, you don’t want somebody growing a suspect crop somewhere and your crop being contaminated, if it’s going to be used for food.”
Medicinal cannabis company OneLife Botanicals said in its submission that the global industry is expected to quadruple in value to be worth A$18.6 billion by 2027. But the company’s cultivation manager, Mark Smith, warned the hearing Victoria is being left behind.
He said: “Currently we’re limited [by state and federal regulations] to seed, oil, seed or fibre. That’s it. We can’t do any extractions. We can’t take any of the valuable lignans, pectins, bioflavonoids, anthocyanins or cannabinoids.”
Meanwhile, Collective Fashion Justice director Emma Håkansson told the committee the carbon footprint of hemp is 42 times lower than that of wool produced in the state.
“Hemp is also able to last in a really hardy way in a similar way to wool,” she said. “Some of the qualities of wool that people find not able to be replaced by something like a synthetic or a cotton can be replaced by hemp. Longevity is really important for sustainability.”
For more information about the hearing, click here.