By The Christchurch Press Company Limited
Nelson, New Zealand — Customs officials are confident they have the ability to control any industrial hemp grown in New Zealand to ensure it could not be used as a cover for illegal cannabis growing.
Hemp was being promoted as a crop with widespread applications and which offered opportunities for regional development and employment.
It was a prohibited plant in New Zealand at present because of its relationship to cannabis.
Customs Minister Phillida Bunkle had told potential growers in Motueka that she supported hemp-growing trials before any Government decision on whether commercial cropping should be approved.
However, she doubted the necessary law changes could be made in time to meet the wishes of the hemp advocates to get trial seeds in the ground next spring.
Ms Bunkle said Customs officials had the expertise and mechanisms for controlling hemp growing under the Customs and Excise Act, just as tobacco and alcohol production were controlled.
She said the risks associated with hemp production could be real or merely in the minds of some sectors of the community, and Customs officers were keen to get out and examine the substance of the fears.
“I believe any risk is manageable; it just depends on how much resource you put into it,” Ms Bunkle said.
If hemp trials showed the resources needed to ensure the safety of the community were too great then the Government could make a decision based on actual experience rather than hearsay and speculation.
Hemp Industry Association president Mac McIntosh said the change of government had brought a change of attitude towards industrial hemp and there was now encouraging movement towards setting up trials.
The only thing blocking hemp was the perception that it was the same plant as marijuana, even though it was not possible to get marijuana from industrial hemp, he said.
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