Fiji intends to take a hemp-only approach to cannabis, Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has told the country’s parliament.
The government said it has already started a study aimed at developing hemp as an agricultural crop throughout the archipelago under funding in the 2021-2022 budget.
Sayed-Khaiyum said the strategy specifically does not include growing high-THC recreational marijuana or cannabis for medicinal purposes. Rather, the program will focus on producing products from hemp fiber, such as rope, and seed for food.
The government hopes development of a hemp sector can eventually replace a fast-growing trade in illicit marijuana, Sayed-Khaiyum said. The Fiji Police Force in 2020 seized marijuana plants with an estimated street value of more than $321 million. That’s up from $68 million in 2018.
The minister said Fiji will seek consultation from the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in developing laws for an industrial hemp program. Fiji’s strict Illicit Drugs Control Act will need to be amended to clear the way for production of industrial hemp products.
“In order to be able to look at where is the best place to plant industrial hemp, when we should plant it, we need to look at, for example, the markets, who will buy it, where we can sell it; we have to look at the climate and soil requirement,” Sayed-Khaiyum told the Fiji Times.
Fiji’s Ministry of Agriculture, local agencies and various international bodies should be consulted, and the private sector explored for the potential to develop manufacturing facilities and attract investment, Sayed-Khaiyum said.
Fiji’s government has said expanding its agricultural sector is needed to wean the country off of tourism, which makes up almost 40% of GDP. That overreliance became critically evident during the coronavirus crisis, the government said.
Fiji’s agricultural economy is based on a wide number of crops including spices, nuts, fruits and vegetables. The country’s farmers have found success recently growing kava root, which is used for stress relief throughout the South Pacific.