Australian readers could soon be getting a shot of cannabis with their daily newspapers.
The South Australian government has planted the first mainland trial hemp crop for use as a source of pulp for making paper.
If successful, the crop could become an alternative source for paper pulp that is now imported at a cost of $1.5 billion a year.
The South Australian Department of Health has issued a 12-month license under the Controlled Substances Act for three trial hemp crops.
The hemp being grown is cannabis vulgaris, not the cannabis sativa used in drug production. Cannabis vulgaris has less than 0.3% of the narcotic tetrahydrocannabinol, usually known as THC, compared with 10% in cannabis sativa.
Australian Newsprint Mills, which produces 65% of Australia’s newsprint, said it has been experimenting with pulping and would buy one ton of the locally produced hemp to process as pulp paper.
ANM technical manager Len Johnson said successful hemp production would require a long-term, large-scale operation.
“It would have to produce at least 250,000 tons a year,” Johnson said. “But there are also other short-term crops that have to be examined.”
The island state of Tasmania has been experimenting with a hemp crop for the last three years. The Victoria state government is also expected to give approval for a three-year trial of hemp production, and West Australia is studying the feasibility of developing a hemp industry.
Proponents of a hemp industry say the crop would be more environmentally friendly than wood and is stronger and more flexible. Wood pulp paper is bleached with chlorine, while hemp is bleached with the safer hydrogen peroxide.
South Australia’s Yorke Regional Development Board has imported six varieties of hemp from France, and they are to be planted at different times through the next 12 months.
If hemp pulp production is successful, authorities see hemp as a secondary cash crop for farmers.
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