By Evie Andreou
AFTER much controversy and several years in the making, a bill to legalise the cultivation of industrial hemp is ready and is expected to be approved by the cabinet as soon as next week, agriculture ministry officials said yesterday.
The bill to alter existing legislation was deemed necessary, the ministry said, as it was an EU obligation. EU legislation allows the cultivation of hemp, and offers subsidies. While cannabis is technically illegal, the state is still forced to subsidise it since EU law overrides national law. Hemp is officially included in the Agricultural Payments Organisation’s (KOAP) list of subsidised products, with a €42-per-donum subsidy.
To avoid being used as a tool for illegal activities, the bill provides for the cultivation of industrial cannabis varieties that contain less than 0.2 per cent of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in cannabis.
But legalisation of hemp does not mean that anyone can plant it in their back yards. The bill provides that hemp farmers or the supplier will have to inform the government of their intention to import seeds and give information on their origin. They must also provide plant samples for lab tests, to prove that the variation planted contains less than 0.2 per cent THC.
There are also restrictions on the size of the land plot that is to be cultivated with hemp, since the bill stipulates that it should not be smaller than the size announced by the competent authority. This means that a handful of plants planted by individuals in small patches of land will still be illegal.
“People will need to submit relevant applications and receive permission to be considered as legal hemp producers. It would not be cost efficient to keep these plants in your back yard, since you would have to go through so many checks. All costs will fall on the applicants,” a ministry official said.
Despite that last year the first hemp harvest took place in Nicosia, after some 80 years since it became illegal on the island, the gap in legislation caused trouble to some would-be hemp farmers in Avgorou in May. They, and the person who provided them with the seeds were arrested and their plants, some 1,600 of them, were destroyed by the drug squad YKAN.
The farmers threatened to sue the government if their names were not cleared. They said they had a purchase certificate for the seeds, claiming that they were indeed hemp, and they also had a bill from KOAP for a lab analysis on the seeds.
YKAN had said that they were only doing their job since cannabis cultivation is illegal under Cyprus law and that the claims would be looked into. The case file would be sent to the legal service, YKAN had said, and it was up to them to decide. They added that the person who provided the seeds was arrested because it was considered a crime punishable by up to seven years in jail.
Following approval by the cabinet, the bill will be sent to the House agriculture committee for discussion and then it will be tabled to the plenum for a vote.
Hemp could become a source of income for producers, since it can be used to make bricks, textiles, paper, fuel, and food. As Cyprus lacks the infrastructure to process the crops, initially producers will have to export their crop.
The Green Party welcomed the completion of the bill and expressed hope that the legislature’s vote would not take long.
“The Green Party will continue its efforts to provide essential support to farmers who wish to cultivate hemp, to access European grants etc. But organisation is also needed to promote hemp in other countries where it can be processed,” it said.
The next goal, they said, was the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes.