Industrial hemp may soon be planted legally after an announcement from Customs Minister Phillida Bunkle that she agrees in principle to trials of the crop.
Customs officials will meet industry representatives on August 21.
“More work will need to be done on developing a framework for how the trials will be conducted and which Government agency will be responsible for controlling the trial plots through a licensing system,” Ms. Bunkle said.
Industrial hemp trials could be conducted under existing legislation, but Government approval would be needed to grow it commercially.
Hemp is the general term used for the cannabis plant when it is grown for commercial or crop purposes.
Hemp is lower in THC, the chemical that gives cannabis its mind-altering quality, than cannabis grown for use as a drug.
New Zealand imports more than $1 million in hemp products each year.
Ms. Bunkle said hemp was likely to be removed from the Misuse of Drugs Act and regulated under the Customs and Excise Act if the trials were successful.
A spokesman for Health Minister Annette King said she supported the move, provided all regulatory conditions were met.
Green Party co-leader Rod Donald said it was urgent the Government made a firm decision so farmers keen to try the crop could plant this season.
Motueka horticultural scientist and hemp supporter Peter Smale said he would apply to undertake trials as soon as approval was confirmed, but the Ministry of Agriculture had yet to allow imports of low-THC hemp seed.
“I want to do proper statistically analysed trials so we can look at product options.”
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