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Local market for hemp likely

Posted on August 8, 2000

Manawatu, New Zealand — What do Jesus Christ, Woody Harrelson, and Queen Victoria have in common? Apart from being famous, they have all used cannabis in some form.

Jesus wore it, Woody grows it, and Queen Victoria smoked it to alleviate “the curse.”

Arguments for and against cannabis are sound, but arguments for industrial hemp, which belongs to the same plant family as cannabis, are growing, and now there are moves to trial crops in New Zealand.

Trials of industrial hemp crops are due to start in October. Customs Minister Phillida Bunkle gave the go-ahead for the trials last month, backed by Health Minister Annette King.

Trials are planned for the Motueka area, but Hew Dalrymple of Federated Farmers’ Manuwatu region said he is keen to trial hemp locally.

Hemp dates back more than 8500 years according to archeological digs in China, where evidence suggests that it was used for clothing, rope and textiles.

During the early days of the colonisation of America, it was illegal for small farm owners not to grow cannabis plants, as they provided raw materials for ropes and sails for the vast British Fleet.

But in 1932, Harry J Anslinger was appointed the Commissioner of the United State’s Narcotics Bureau, and by 1941 he had managed to abolish all forms of cannabis in the United States.

He continued his crusade internationally, where he had similar results with the aid of the United Nations.

Despite opposition from textile manufacturers and medical associations worldwide, because of its pain releiving abilities, 60 nations signed the Uniform Drugs Convention in 1961.

Hemp and cannabis have been illegal in New Zealand since the 1960s and the UN still exerts pressure regarding drug laws, but scientific, economic and enviromental evidence suggests industrial hemp could benefit New Zealand.

According to Green MP Nandor Tanczos we import hemp products from China and Hungary, and would be hard-pressed to compete with the South African and Australian hemp markets, but domestic demand would be sufficient to make hemp a lucrative crop.

Dressed in hemp jeans and jacket, he is a walking advertisment for hemp clothing, and sees it as somewhat ironic that we import such large quantities of hemp for such high prices.

“A few trials could establish what seeds work best in which climates and soils, and although China and Hungary have cornered the market of hemp textiles, New Zealand has an opportunity to produce body oils from the seeds and pulp products from the plants.”

Those opposed to hemp because of its association with drugs need not be concerned, as the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level in industrial hemp is so low that it could not be classified as a drug, and can’t even be smoked, according to Mr Tanczos.

In a Nelson court case, Stephen Burnett proved that his hemp crops contained such a small amount of THC, that the judge dismissed the case after concluding it had no psychoactive effect.

With its fast growing abilities and long roots, it is productive and stops erosion, it can also be utilised as an insect repellent for nearby crops, as well as being aesthetically pleasing.

With all this in mind, one can only question why hemp hasn’t been a dominant crop in New Zealand in the past.

Just think of all the sheep jokes we could have avoided.

Copyright © 2000, The Evening Standard. All rights reserved.

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