Tasmania to encourage hemp crops despite Federal Ministerial forum’s hemp oil seed ban
The Tasmanian Government has released details of a plan to introduce legislation which will encourage the growth of the State’s industrial hemp industry. The Tasmanian announcement came one day before the Federal decision to reject a lifting of the Food Standards Code ban on hemp as a food.
The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation met last Friday 30 January 2015 in Auckland.
Review of Low THC Hemp as a Food
The Forum considered Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s (FSANZ) review of Application 1039 – low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) hemp as a food. The Forum, at a previous meeting in December 2012, had requested FSANZ review its decision in relation to draft variations to the Code arising from Application 1039 to reconsider the permission of foods derived from the seeds of low THC hemp. In December 2014, FSANZ completed its review and affirmed its support to vary to the Code that would have permitted hemp as food.
However, the Ministerial Forum rejected the proposed variation. The Ministers noted that FSANZ had found that foods derived from the seeds of low THC hemp do not present any safety concerns as food, and that concerns regarding the impact on police THC drug testing fall beyond the remit of FSANZ.
However, the Ministers had concerns regarding law enforcement issues, particularly from a policing perspective in relation to roadside drug testing, cannabidiol levels as well as concerns that ‘the marketing of hemp in food may send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of Cannabis”.
The Forum of Ministers agreed that further work would be undertaken promptly to consider law enforcement, roadside drug testing and marketing concerns in consultation with all relevant Ministers.
Current Australian hemp seed oil regulation
Hemp and hemp seed oil is currently banned for use in Australia. Under Standard 1.4.4 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (note: however, NZ has permitted hemp oil since 2002)
- Standard 1.4.4 – Schedule 1: Prohibited Plants and Fungi:
- Apocynum cannabinum, Canadian hemp, Dogbane, Indian hemp, Cannabis spp. Hemp, Marijuana. A plant or fungus, or a part or a derivative of a plant or fungus listed in Schedule 1, or any substance derived therefrom, must not be intentionally added to food or offered for sale as food.
In various Australian States, the product is also listed as a poison under separate legislation.
Tasmanian Government’s industrial hemp position
The Tasmanian Government released a statement on 29 January 2015 outlining reform it was introducing to “simplify regulation and support growth in the industry hemp industry”.
The reforms are part of the Tasmanian Government’s AgriVision 2050 plan, which has been developed to “capitalise on the State’s competitive strengths and create jobs by growing the value of the agricultural sector” in Tasmania to $10 billion per year by 2050.
The Tasmanian Government said the industrial hemp industry had the potential to provide value-adding opportunities for Tasmanian farmers. Industrial hemp refers to varieties of Cannabis that contain very low levels of delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and “at the allowable threshold there are no psychoactive (drug) inducing effects”.
Introduction of specific purpose industrial hemp legislation
The key Tasmanian move is the introduction of specific purpose industrial hemp legislation to be administered by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE).
The Tasmanian Government said the aim of the legislation was to “provide sensible and practical regulation without compromising drug law enforcement or public safety”. While the new Act is being developed, the Government will immediately introduce a five year hemp licence to replace the need to apply annually for a 12-month licence. The Government said this would immediately lift the regulatory burden on industry.
In addition the Government has determined that there will be an increase to the maximum allowable THC threshold for industrial hemp grown in Tasmania from 0.35 per cent to 1.0 per cent.
The Tasmanian Government’s position statement was developed following the Tasmanian House of Assembly Inquiry into the Tasmanian Industrial Hemp Industry (Report No. 1 of 2013), which found that there should be as few regulatory restrictions as possible placed on the industry. It also revised the Guidelines for Growing Industrial Hemp in Tasmania. These Guidelines are to be further reviewed.
The House of Assembly Inquiry into the Tasmanian Industrial Hemp Industry recommended that DPIPWE would be the most appropriate body to regulate the industry. The Government concurs and will introduce special purpose legislation to regulate the cultivation and supply of industrial hemp for commercial production and other legitimate uses. The new Act will also introduce a licensing regime for research into industrial hemp varieties, including those that exceed the maximum allowable THC threshold. The new Act will ensure that the production can take place without risk to drug law enforcement. AgriGrowth Tasmania will work with the Department of Health and Human Services, Tasmania Police and stakeholder groups and industry on developing appropriate legislation for Tasmania, including implementation options.
The Tasmanian Government said its intention is to introduce a Bill to Parliament by November 2015.
All crops would be tested for compliance
The only recommendation from the Inquiry that is not supported by Government relates to the random testing of industrial hemp crops supported by an industry levy to fund the testing.
The Tasmanian Government said this would not provide the level of scrutiny and absolute verification of THC levels that both the industrial hemp industry needs and/or that ensures there is no risk to drug law enforcement. Tasmania Police concurred with this view.
The Tasmanian Government said it was important that the fledgling Tasmanian Industrial hemp industry “establishes a reputation for high quality, sustainable and safe products, especially when the industry is ultimately targeting the human consumption food market”. Therefore all crops will still need to be tested to ensure compliance with the maximum allowable THC threshold.
Hemp in Food
Human consumption of all cannabis products is currently prohibited under the Australia New Zealand Food Safety Code. FSANZ supports the sale of food derived from hemp with low THC content as it is safe for human consumption at the recommended maximum levels of THC content; there are adequate controls in place to mitigate the risk of illicit cannabis products entering the market; and the approval should not have an impact on drug enforcement.
FSANZ was also satisfied that consumer protection legislation in Australia and New Zealand that regulates misleading and deceptive conduct is sufficient to ensure that consumers are not at risk of being misled by food labelling or advertising potentially connecting hemp in foods with the psychoactive (drug) effects of other high THC varieties of cannabis.
The Tasmanian Government said the although ultimate decision on whether hemp in food will be allowed rests nationally with the Forum of Ministers responsible for food regulation across Australia, the Tasmanian Government will continue to strongly advocate for Federal approval allowing industrial hemp products in food.