In brief - Industry participants must abide by Drugs Misuse Act and Regulation

Growers and researchers of industrial hemp in Queensland must hold the relevant licence. Seed suppliers, denaturers and livestock farmers should also be aware of their obligations and ensure compliance with the law. 

What is industrial hemp?

Industrial hemp is cannabis that is bred to have high fibre levels and low levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); the principle psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis. Although of the same genus as the cannabis plant used for recreational and medicinal purposes, industrial hemp has different properties and is used in a wide variety of products, including carpeting, insulation, cement and paint.

In Australia it is illegal to produce hemp products for human consumption. There are strict licensing and other regulatory requirements which apply to the industrial hemp industry because of this. This article aims to explain the laws surrounding the industry as they apply to current or potential participants.  

Queensland regulations impose licence requirements on growers and researchers

Growing industrial hemp has been legal in Queensland since 1998 and is now legal in every other state except for South Australia. In Queensland, commercial production of industrial hemp is regulated by the Drugs Misuse Act 1986 (Qld) and the Drugs Misuse Regulation 1987 (Qld).

Under the Act and Regulation, industrial hemp plants must not have THC levels exceeding 0.1% and must be grown from seed certified to produce plants with no more than 0.5%. They also must not be grown without a license. There are three industrial hemp licences available in Queensland:
  1. Growers' Licence: required to commercially produce industrial hemp plants and seed, including for supply to researchers with Category 1 and Category 2 Research Licences
  2. Category 1 Research Licence: required to conduct research into the use of industrial hemp as a commercial fibre and seed crop (for example, field trials using fertilisers or irrigation and different planting rates), and
  3. Category 2 Research Licence: required to conduct plant breeding programs to develop new or improved strains of hemp for use by commercial growers.
Participants in the industrial hemp industry other than growers or researchers (such as employees and inspectors) do not need to obtain a licence. However, they must abide by the Act and Regulation. Any dealings with hemp outside the Act or Regulation may be deemed a dangerous drug offence. 

Under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (Cth), a licence is required to import all cannabis products into Australia, regardless of the THC levels. Importation of any cannabis products intended for human consumption is prohibited.

Seed suppliers do not need licence but must fulfil storage, record-keeping and labelling requirements 

Industrial hemp seed suppliers are not required to have a license, but they must:
  • keep industrial hemp seed locked in a secure place
  • keep records on all seed held and supplied, and
  • ensure seed is labelled in accordance with requirements
Seed suppliers can apply to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to be a recognised seed supplier. This requires them to:
  • have a current recognised quality assurance program that conforms to an industry standard or code of practice, and
  • be a member of the Queensland Seed Industry Association, or a similar organisation in another state

Denatured product and the requirements for denaturers

Denatured hemp seed is seed which has been processed to prevent seed germination. It is primarily used in manufacturing seed or oil products. 

A denaturer may possess industrial hemp seed for this purpose, and supply denatured seed to someone who is authorised to possess processed hemp. A denaturer is required to:
  • keep non-denatured seed in a securely locked place
  • keep records of all seed received, and
  • pay Biosecurity Queensland to monitor the denaturing activities 

Restrictions on feeding industrial hemp to livestock

There are restrictions on feeding industrial hemp to food-producing animals to ensure that meat, milk and eggs for human consumption are free of THC. These restrictions are governed by the Biosecurity Regulation 2016 (Qld) which states that it is only legal to feed hemp to food-producing animals if it is:
  • harvested or treated hemp stalks with all leaves, flowering heads and seeds removed
  • denatured industrial hemp seed, or
  • oil extracted and meal ground from denatured industrial hemp seed
It is not legal to feed the following to food-producing animals:
  • any hemp plant that still has leaves, flowers or seeds attached
  • "failed" industrial hemp crops left unharvested in a growing paddock, or
  • non-denatured hemp seed

Will hemp products for human consumption soon be approved?

In March 2017, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) released a proposal to allow low THC hemp seeds for human consumption in Australia and New Zealand. This is not the first such proposal made by the FSANZ, and it would require approval from the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation before it would lead to any change in policy.

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2024.

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