Last year's announcement that the Victorian State Government will legalise medicinal cannabis has again provoked debate around hemp consumption, and opened a potentially lucrative industry for farmers. Not to be mistaken for marijuana, industrial hemp has no psychoactive qualities and will sooner make you sick than high if smoked.
While not suitable for smoking, hemp seeds can be a valuable and inexpensive food source. The crop has been gaining support in the past few years with Food Standards Australia and New Zealand declaring the protein and omega rich seeds and oil safe for human consumption both in 2002 and 2011. It's nutritional value means it could serve as a cheap and largely tasteless alternative to supplements like Chia seeds, which can cost $40 a kilo. But although hemp is currently being cultivated in Australia for textiles, cosmetics, and construction purposes, it's still illegal to buy or sell as food.
Industrial Hemp Association of Queensland Secretary, Matt Stapleton, is frustrated by the way the State and Federal government has failed to communicate with the industry. "The government funds and supports the sugar industry, but the after-affects mean we have people in Australia with type 2 diabetes. Ironically, industrial hemp has been identified as benefiting people who have type 2 diabetes." he told VICE.
His opinions are echoed by federal Tasmanian MP, Andrew Wilkie who reignited debate earlier this year by publicly advocating the industry, saying its continuing illegal status is politically driven.
Meanwhile in New South Wales, Farmers in the Macquarie Valley are already turning to industrial hemp as an alternative to cotton due to its economical water usage. The plant has been suggested as a sustainable crop for Australia's increasingly hot and dry climate as it needs little or no pesticides and is extremely water efficient. It's also carbon negative as it sequesters carbon from the atmosphere.
With retail sales in the US worth $500 million, the sale of seed and oil also appear economically sound. However the local industry isn't likely to echo overseas economic success as Australia's delayed response means it's too late for Australia to play a major exporting role in the industrial hemp industry. Hemp Australia's Lisa Estreich adds, "In 1999 Canada's turnover was $50,000 and now they're a $500 million industry. We need it for Australian produce, but because Canada is so huge it's probably only going to be for our own local consumption. Sadly we've lost the potential to be great exporters."