The long-awaited decision yesterday giving the green light to products made from hemp seeds for human consumption is a very small step in the right direction.
The Food Standards Australia New Zealand recommendation that was approved by government ministers will open up many new opportunities for the hemp industry to grow in both countries. The seeds are an excellent source of omega 3 and 6 and a wide variety of products are already in markets that relaxed their regulations years ahead of us. Export opportunities to the US and other markets will be maximised if officials can ensure harmonisation in classification of hemp varieties, organic certification standards and position on psychotropic extracts.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most well known of over 100 cannabinoids in cannabis, and is the compound which causes the “high” a person gets from marijuana. The next most common cannabinoid is Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has no hallucinogenic properties and no known adverse side-effects from consumption. It does have proven benefits for a range of physiological conditions and neurological functions in humans.
In New Zealand, a division of the Ministry of Health called Medicines Control, currently presents the biggest barrier to the commercialisation of industrial hemp. Medicines Control are a team of public servants who have the tricky job of regulating drugs in New Zealand. They are largely responsible for regulating, and are also subject to the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and the Medicines Act 1981. They interpret the legislation and do so in one particularly contentious way.
The position MOH has taken on CBD needs to change.
The UN 1961 Drug Convention that New Zealand is a signatory to and which guides drug laws does not regard industrial hemp as a narcotic. Article 28 of The Convention is clear that, “The Convention shall not apply to the cultivation of the cannabis plant exclusively for industrial purposes (fiber and seed) or horticultural purposes.”
The 2006 Industrial Hemp regulations are very clear that there are a list of approved cultivars that have been proven to contain less than the required 0.35 percent THC and that all parts of these plants may be used to produce hemp products.
Medicines Control officials argue that CBD had not been discovered, or at least wasn’t a popular extract from hemp when the 2006 regulations (and UN Drugs Convention) were passed. MOH are subsequently taking a conservative approach and preventing CBD from being extracted because they regard it as an isomer of THC and subsequently claim it is regulated under the definition of a controlled drug.
Unfortunately for MOH, scientists from the government’s own analytical chemistry organisation ESR, have provided clear scientific evidence (to the high court) that CBD is in fact not an isomer of THC, and said it subsequently should not be regulated as a controlled drug.
MOH policy officials maintain their position on CBD and subsequently put in place numerous barriers for organisations like ours that are keen to do laboratory research and commercial development work involving CBD extracts from industrial hemp.
A long list of regulatory barriers in New Zealand preventing the extraction, analysis, product development and exporting of CBD products (that retails for around $25,000 per litre) are stifling a potentially lucrative industry for this region while producers overseas move rapidly to develop novel therapeutic products based on extracts from industrial hemp.
The Ministry of Health policy could be amended overnight. They could accept that cannabidiol is not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act. They have been arguing internally about this for at least three years.
With 18 months to review and update legislation, now is the chance for the MOH, Ministry for Primary Industries and hemp industry representatives to agree on how CBD and other hemp extracts can be used to create economic opportunities for regions like Tairawhiti.
We need the rest of the region on board to make this happen.