As Victorian lawmaker waxes poetic, Australian state’s hemp legislation gathers support

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A proposed hemp law in Victoria, Australia now has the support of the state’s government. The Hemp Industry Bill 2024, which is moving through the legislative process, grew out of an inquiry last year. Rachel Payne, a Member of Parliament from the Legalize Cannabis Victoria party and one of the bill’s sponsors, waxed poetic, in a Shakespearean way, as she introduced the measure for a second reading. Below is her speech. (Subheadlines by HempToday)

(With apologies to The Bard – ed.)

Shall I compare hemp to a summer’s day?
Hemp art more lovely and more temperate.
Pests do not shake your darling buds away,
And you hath thousands of uses to date.

Sometime too heavy the weight of rule rest,
And often is fabric, food or fibre;
And every 90 days from seed harvest;
By chance, or climate’s changing course, sequester;

But thy eternal value shall not end,
Nor lose hold of that resilience thou sow,
Nor shall poor soil inhibit thou to mend,
When in Victorian lands thou will grow.

So long as people breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives hemp, and this gives life to me.

Hear ye, lawmakers

Would you believe that at the same time Shakespeare was writing his sonnets, Queen Elizabeth I was requiring all landholders to set aside a quarter of an acre for the cultivation of hemp for every 60 acres of land tilled?

I guess she thought hemp was pretty good. Perhaps it is time we bring some of these old-world practices into the modern day.

I hope you will indulge me for a moment and allow me to share a story from our campaign for the inquiry into the industrial hemp industry in Victoria.

We had a group of Victorian industrial hemp growers attend Parliament to present to the media and other MPs. This included a display of an array of hemp products – clothing, carpet and prefabricated fire-resistant panelling.

Tragedy of a dried stick

One of them happened to bring a dried hemp stalk to demonstrate how the outer layer peels away, which is the fibre of the plant, exposing an inner layer that is soft and pulpy, which is the hurd of the plant. Both by-products have a multitude of applications.

This harmless initiative from a farmer showing the practicalities of a hemp stalk turned into a full-blown investigation into whether I had drugs on the Parliament precinct!

You see, throughout the course of the day, this stalk ended up in my office. Would you believe that within the hour we had a visit from the Usher of the Black Rod? Despite our consensus that this stick was not in fact a drug, they requested that I please remove the stalk from the building. Apparently, someone had notified their office of their ‘concerns’.

We never got an exact reason for why they were concerned, although to avoid discomfort, we did comply with their request.

So, when you ask me why we need an Industrial Hemp Act, I point you to the fact that we have parliamentarians afraid of what – in no uncertain terms – is a dried stick.

Hemp’s heroic role

Victoria, unlike almost all other states, does not have a standalone industrial hemp act. We only have six hemp growers in the entire state. Worse still, much of what we produce is exported offshore for processing.

We are lagging behind other states and even further behind the rest of the world.

But attitudes are changing, and we are seeing a resurgence of hemp globally as its thousands of uses are rediscovered – the international market for industrial hemp is projected to grow to $18.6 billion by 2027!

The opportunities are endless, but hemp could have a role to play in revitalising national manufacturing, providing countless local jobs and building more environmentally friendly housing.

A standalone act

We are well acquainted with the potential of this crop, thanks in large part to the inquiry into the industrial hemp industry in Victoria.

This inquiry investigated the barriers and opportunities faced by Victoria’s industrial hemp industry and how this government could offer better support.

Unsurprisingly, this inquiry found numerous areas for improvement.

Recommendation 1 was to create fit-for-purpose industrial hemp legislation.

And that is exactly why today I introduce the Hemp Industry Bill 2024.

The purpose of this bill is to create a standalone act to deal with industrial hemp, amending the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 to remove part IVA, ‘Authorities for low-THC cannabis’.

The bill makes minor clarifications and improvements but largely retains existing provisions dealing with authorities for industrial hemp; applications; conditions; renewals, suspensions and cancellations of authorities; protected information and VCAT review; and inspection and enforcement.

Brave new world

Turning to the changes in this bill, we have replaced authorities under part IVA of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 with hemp licences; we have updated language to signal the legitimacy of the crop and reduce stigma; we have increased the maximum authority term for a hemp licence from three to five years; we have clarified the fit and proper person requirement; we have improved consistency and clarity for the time periods for criminal and police checks; we have ensured inspectors use their powers only to the extent they are required to ensure compliance; we have encouraged harvest over destruction for crops that are taken into the inspector’s possession; we have extended the appeal window for a decision of disposal or destruction from 48 hours to three business days; and we have introduced scientific licences, inspired by Tasmania, to allow research into ‘hemp that is not industrial hemp’ to ultimately develop industrial hemp with qualities that benefit the industry – for instance, with greater yield.

Importantly, the repeal of part IVA, ‘Authorities for low-THC cannabis’, of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 will revoke any regulations made under it. Our intention is that any future regulations are not remade in the same form, so that inspection and licensing fees are reduced to zero.

Our bill is unable to address all the recommendations of the industrial hemp inquiry.

But we look forward to seeing the government respond to this inquiry before the six-month response period lapses at the end of May.

We can do better, and hemp can help – let’s sow the seeds for Victoria’s future.

I, on behalf of Legalise Cannabis Victoria, commend this bill to the house.

[See Victoria’s Hemp Industry Bill 2024]

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