For eight years, businessman Kim Hough lobbied Western Australia (WA) governments for approval of an estimated $1 billion-a-year industry that would boost local farming.
The only problem was, it was illegal.
Then, on May 19, the Industrial Hemp Act of WA came into effect.
It allowed the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp with less than 0.35 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient of cannabis or marijuana.
It should have been a sweet victory for Mr Hough, who has devoted much of his life to researching and promoting one of nature’s most versatile — if misunderstood — plants.
But now his company, Hemp Resources, is the first in WA to be rejected for a licence by the Department of Agriculture.
According to Registrar of Hemp Mark Holland, Hemp Resources’ application was rejected on the grounds that two of its directors and an associate had criminal convictions.
Most were minor cannabis-related offences.
The Industrial Hemp Act says applicants with serious drug offences cannot be granted a licence.
But neither can those who are “not of good character and repute” — the basis for the written rejection.
It was a bitter blow to the businessman, who says he has international investors and hundreds of local farmers queuing up to cash in on the crop.
Hemp is the strongest natural fibre in the world and has thousands of uses, from textiles and cosmetics, to food products, fuel oil and construction.
Hemp Resources’ factory in Malaga has been producing such samples for the past year.
The Catch-22 is that those who arguably know most about cultivating hemp in WA are more likely to have done it illegally in the past.
Mr Hough admits to having grown small amounts for personal use and research purposes.
But he also argues that such minor offences should not stand in the way of a legitimate business venture.
“We’re putting together one of the most important agricultural projects in this state’s history and we’ve been crippled,” he said.
“We can take it elsewhere, but it will cost this state millions of dollars in export earnings, revenue and jobs.”
Mr Holland said Mr Hough could appeal the decision.
So far, only two licences have been granted — both to Department of Agriculture staff for research purposes.
Mr Holland said there had been interest from other private companies but only Hemp Resources had applied for a licence.
In his ruling, Mr Holland stated: “The opportunities for misuse of that licence (by Hemp Resources) are obvious. Its grant would provide a cover for a person seeking to grow and sell cannabis, other than industrial hemp.”
Mr Hough said: “Hemp and cannabis don’t grow together like that.”
“If there are any marijuana growers in the region, they’re not going to like us because we’ll be pollinating their plants with very low-THC hemp pollen which will ruin their cannabis crops.”
Mr Hough has enlisted Chinese help to establish a paper mill in the South-West and buy a textiles factory in China.
The head of the Chinese side, Tian Xin, is founder of the Shenyang Institute of Natural Fibres, a member of the International Hemp Association.
Copyright © 2004, The Sunday Times. All rights reserved.