Deregulation for hemp growers urged

27 September 2023

Hemp industry figures have called for cuts to industry regulation during testimony to the Legislative Council Economy and Infrastructure Committee.

The Committee is inquiring into the issues, barriers and opportunities within the hemp industry in Victoria.

Currently there are just six growers cultivating a total of 169 hectares of hemp in the state.  

But the inquiry has heard that could be greatly expanded. 

Medicinal cannabis company, OneLife Botanicals, suggested in its submission to the inquiry that the global industry is expected to quadruple in value by to hit hit $18.6 billion by 2027.

But the company’s cultivation manager, Mark Smith, told the hearing that Victoria is being left behind. 

‘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,’ he said. 

Hemp can be used in the production of a wide range of products, including textiles, paper, building materials, abrasive chemicals, oils, food, inks, cosmetics and more. 

In textile production it also uses fewer chemical inputs, less land and less water to produce compared to other fibre crops, the Committee heard.

Emma Håkansson, director of Collective Fashion Justice, told the Committee that the carbon footprint of hemp is 42 times smaller than that of wool produced in Victoria. 

‘Hemp is also able to last in a really hardy way in a similar way to wool. 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’, she said. 

‘Longevity is really important for sustainability.’ 

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 stand-alone Hemp Act, and it sees it as an industrial agricultural crop,' she said. 

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.

Dr Stuart Gordon, Senior Principal Research Scientist with the CSIRO, told the Committee that some level of regulation, while creating an expense for growers, would likely need to remain in place. 

'The regulation is important because you don't want to cross contamination of that crop. So you don't want a high THC crop, you don't want somebody growing a suspect crop somewhere and then then your crop being contaminated, if it's going to be used for food. So you need to have regulation there,’ he said. 

Information about the hearing, including the terms of reference are available on the Committee’s website.   

The Committee intends to table its final report, including recommendations, to the Victorian Parliament by 15 November 2023.