The British Government carried Cannabis sativa seeds on the First Fleet to Australia in 1787. Since hemp was an essential commodity used in manufacturing sails, clothing, and waterproofing of their ships, they intended to establish hemp plantations across the colonies
Hemp soon fell out of favour because the species also produces marijuana which is high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is known to induce psychoactive effects. In the 1920s and 30s, people started to ignore the fact that hemp typically contains less than 0.3% THC while marijuana contains anywhere from 7-25%. Upon launching the smear campaign “Reefer Madness” quickly spread from the US to Australia.
It wasn’t until the 2000s that Australian states learnt to distinguish between the two primary variations in the species. Since then, the nation has started to take baby steps towards a domestic hemp industry.
Overall, 2020 has been an exciting year in the Australian Hemp industry! Today we are going to take a quick look at some of the news highlights.
In February, at the Australian Industrial Hemp Conference, a lineup of prominent industry experts, including Food Expert Michael Robertson, discussed how hemp might play a role in land management and future technology.
Before this conference, the country dealt with the devastating bushfires that resulted in about 46 million acres of land burned. Unfortunately, around 30 people died, 1 billion animals perished, and 6000 buildings got destroyed in the fires. Some of the benchmark talks at the event included questions of whether hemp products could be considered more viable for rebuilding Australia.
This second biennial conference lasted three days, hosted over 40 speakers, discussed hemp for human health, and walked through different crop agronomy varieties. Here, speakers from Canada, New Zealand, China and Europe shared valuable information about production costs, medical applications and future industry projections.
In March, the European Industrial Hemp Association requested a more transparent legal framework concerning industrial hemp’s international regulation. They stated that the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UN-CND) had no jurisdiction to classify of hemp as a narcotic with high-risk for abuse.
EIHA said that this is because hemp was not covered in the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Within the treaty that serves as a basis for worldwide drug controls today, the EU defined cannabis as “flowering of the fruit”. This definition implies that leaves, seeds and other byproducts cannot be classified as a medicine.
In June 2020, a draft following ACMS/ACCS consultation meetings with the Department of Health proposed some long-awaited amendments to the Poisons Standard in Australia. If passed, it would mean changes in CBD regulations, which boasts a forecasted market value increase from USD40 million to USD1.5 billion by 2025.
The draft rules would categorise CBD as an over-the-counter (OTC) product. This change means that it would move from being a Schedule 4 to Schedule 3 substance. The draft follows a safety review conducted by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) that examined the effects of low dose CBD.
By the time September came by, the Ministry of Health handed down an interim decision that could allow the OTC sale of CBD. However, like any other medicinal products, they would face the same regulations of prescription pharmaceuticals. The rules imposed by the TGA would prohibit smokable hemp, vaping, and topical use – the three most dynamic sub-sectors in countries where it is already legal.
These updates in Australian were critical since they would eventually influence similar decisions by the European Commission. Boaz Wachtel, a director, co-founder, and former chairman at Australian nutraceuticals maker Cresco Pharma, commented that these changes would open the door to CBD producers to better serve the Australian consumer.
In August, the European Commission released indicators that were seen as negative moves for CBD operators in the continent. They also hinted that the Commission was set to push for these restrictions on an international level. These indicators followed a July “preliminary conclusion” that surprised stakeholders with its stance that the EU should recognise non-medical natural hemp extracts as narcotics.
This preliminary decision caused fear that sectors in the EU hemp industry would spin into chaos. The EC urged that its move was to ensure member states had clear guidance on hemp extracts. Their preliminary view was that CBD derived from the fruiting and flowering tops of the hemp plant is a narcotic in the United Nations Single Convention.
European stakeholders pushed back against these red lights in various ways. They argued that hemp and its byproducts within the United Nations treaties and their supplementary protocols of 1972 are explicitly not subject to international drug controls. Stakeholders also pointed out that the 1961 United Nations Convention on Narcotic Drugs only covers illicit farming and trafficking of high-THC Cannabis, which hemp is not.
Hemp is a plant with a myriad of benefits and applications. Unfortunately, the stain on its reputation due to its association with marijuana is difficult to wipe off. From this summary of some happenings within the Australian industry this year, it certainly seems promising that our favourite eco-friendly material may once again see widespread use in trade and manufacturing.
What was your favourite moment of 2020 in the Australian Hemp Industry?