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Industrial Hemp Bill No. 47 of 2015 - Second Reading Speech

Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, I agree with the comments of the member for Rosevears. It is very important that we move as quickly as we can. It is a good idea to read the TFGA article of 20 September 2015 - Hemp Hopes Grow Brighter.

We are edging closer to a viable industrial hemp industry in Tasmania with Primary Industries Minister Jeremy Rockliff this week tabling legislation that sets out the parameters within which farmers can grow this crop with more certainty in the future. Of particular joy to us is that hemp growers will have to deal with only one government department, the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, rather than Health and Human Services, Justice and a couple of others. It has been a nightmare.

But there is still a bureaucratic fog blotting the horizon for this crop, the horizon we strive for when hemp seed products will be accepted in Australia and New Zealand as a food source as it is in many other parts of the world.

This is an industry raring to go, when hemp can be grown here on a commercial basis for food, oil and fibre. At the moment we are limited to about 11 growers planting about 100 ha a year, with the seed product being pressed for oil and the cosmetics industry. Mr Rockliff's Industrial Hemp Bill Bill essentially removes industrial hemp from being officially considered a poison or a drug. That classification has held us back, while at the same time forcing us to deal with up to five government departments to get a licence to produce seed for pressing.

In future hemp will be regarded as an agricultural crop, like any other that we can grow. For poppy growers, it becomes both an alternative and a backstop. Because we plant hemp in November and harvest in late February or March, it means that if we lose poppy crops, as we did last year, through too much rain, we will still have time to put in hemp in the same ground but later in the year, the driest part of the year. As well as taking the industry outside the poisons regime, the legislation and the accompanying regulatory framework extend licensing from one to five years, which means farmers can plan ahead.

Even though the THC levels of Tasmanian hemp are very low in any case, lifting the content threshold from 0.35 to 1.0 brings us into line with NSW, Queensland and the ACT, which allows for freer trading. As I said, we still have to overcome the federal prohibition on hemp food products. Any change has to be agreed by the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation. They have actually agreed but called for more research before the ban can be lifted. The forum meets again in January and perhaps this time we can clear that final hurdle.

New Zealand already approves the human consumption of industrial hemp oil, but not low-THC seed. We are confident that Tasmania has a strong future in growing hemp for seed, oil and fibre. With production up to economic levels, we could also look forward to local processing and that means the prospect of many more local jobs.

This article first appeared in Tasmanian Country on 20 September 2015 by the TFGA.

The other issue I would raise was mentioned this morning by a couple of members about the possibility of marijuana plants being hidden in the industrial hemp. I found an interesting article regarding myth and reality. I think it is worth reading.

It says - Myth - hemp fields would be used to hide marijuana plants.

Reality - hemp is grown quite differently to marijuana. Moreover, it is harvested at a different time than marijuana. Finally, cross-pollination between hemp and marijuana plants would significantly reduce the potency of marijuana plants.

Hemp grown for fibre is planted in narrow row spacing of four inches apart. Branching is discouraged and plants are not allowed to flower. The stems are kept small, high density and foliage develops only on the top. Hemp plants crowd out weeds and other hemp plants not equal to the competition. Marijuana plants, on the contrary, are spaced widely to encourage branching and the flower is the harvested product. Marijuana is a horticultural crop planted in wide spacing to minimise stand competition and promote flower production. It branches thickly like a Christmas tree. In contrast, hemp selected for fibre has only a few branches. What about seed producers who space their plants widely? Where seed is the harvested product, whether as reproduction seed or oil seed, purity is critical for marketability. The mixing of off-type genotypes would be scrupulously avoided in seed production fields.

Breeders and producers of sweet corn go to great lengths to isolate their crops from the pollen of field corn. The same applies to hemp and marijuana. People who grow strains of cannabis for smoking try to avoid pollination of the flowers. The superior quality material is obtained from seedless plants, the so-called sinsemilla. Hemp fields, in fact, could be a deterrent to marijuana growers. A strong case can be made that the best way to reduce the THC level of marijuana grown outdoors would be to grow industrial hemp near it. An experiment in Russia found that hemp pollen could travel 12 kilometres. This would mean that a hemp field would create a zone with a 12 kilometre radius within which no marijuana grower would want to establish a crop.

The reciprocal also applies. Growers of hemp seed would not want cannabis of an off-type, i.e. not the intended genetic type, mixing its pollen with their flowers.

The isolation of genotypes is a common procedure used by the seed industry to preserve the genetic integrity of varieties. Valued strains are created by plant breeding at substantial expense. Marijuana pollen would destroy this value.

It goes on -

There is another reason that marijuana growers would be unlikely to plant their crop in a hemp field. All countries that have recently begun to recommercialise hemp operate under a permit system whereby the farmer must let the local police know which field is being planted in hemp. Would a marijuana grower decide to plant his or her crop in an area high on the police radar screen? As such it is monitoring without notice.

I am pleased to see it is unlikely that marijuana would be planted amongst hemp. Hemp is a great plant that we can be moving forward with and I am really pleased to see the Government is moving forward as well and let us hope it happens as quickly as possible.

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