By Angelos Anastasiou
THE government’s bureaucratic inefficiency has created a row over the legality of growing industrial cannabis – hemp – as two local farmers have already planted the seed, allowed under EU law but in violation of national legislation, and applied for a government subsidy.
Despite hemp being a harmless variety of the cannabis plant, containing negligible amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cyprus law forbids the cultivation of any and all forms of cannabis. This, however, contradicts EU legislation, which allows the cultivation of both hemp and medical marijuana, provided they are used for legitimate commercial purposes.
But as EU legislation overrides member states’ national law, two Cypriot farmers planted a total of four donums, and applied for the government subsidy EU law entitles them to.
Following a statement by the health ministry’s permanent secretary on Tuesday, arguing that the cultivation of cannabis is not allowed in Cyprus by law, a storm of comments and reactions were unleashed.
By yesterday, Agriculture minister Nikos Kouyialis had undertaken setting the record straight.
“What we need to do is harmonise our legislation with regard to these kinds of cannabis,” Kouyialis said. “I am hoping that we will soon have a decree that needs to be signed by the health minister, which will solve the problem. According to the decree, anyone fulfilling a set of requirements will be allowed to grow industrial cannabis.”
As if the contradicting legal provisions were not enough, a second mix-up created further confusion. While the health ministry announced yesterday that growing the plant was illegal, the Cyprus Agricultural Payments Organisation (CAPO) – the body responsible for authorising plants and seeds for cultivation – had included hemp in its list of subsidised products, with a €42-per-donum subsidy.
One of the farmers who found themselves embroiled in the controversy, Solon Grigoriou, had no doubts with regard to the legitimacy of their action.
“The CAPO’s list of authorised products includes industrial cannabis,” he said. “We don’t need to obtain a permit to grow it, it’s already a given from this inclusion.”
CAPO head Kostas Petrides agreed with Grigoriou’s view.
“This is a case of much ado about nothing,” he said. “There are two types of cannabis plants – industrial cannabis, which is hemp, and medical cannabis, which is marijuana. The substance used by drug addicts is found in medical cannabis, while the industrial variety has none. The EU clearly allows its cultivation and subsidisation by the government, and the Cyprus government will have to comply or face the consequences.”
But Kouyialis explained that the government has no plans to disregard the EU law, fully intending to harmonise national law but stumbling upon bureaucratic inertia.
“The government is in the process of harmonising its laws, so it doesn’t look like the two farmers will be prosecuted,” he said.
The harmonisation process started last December but has not yet been voted on.
“Sometimes, the government makes decisions that require some time before they can be implemented, leaving ministers exposed,” Kouyialis said by way of explaining the confusion. “Also, let’s not forget that all bills are forwarded to the Law Service, which is direly understaffed.”
A secondary issue brought to the fore by the controversy was the origin of the seeds planted by the two rogue farmers. By law, any seeds or plants imported to Cyprus for commercial use must undergo quality checks by the Agriculture Department, but it appears this did not happen in this case.
“We bought the seeds from France,” Grigoriou said. “We ordered them and they were mailed to us by regular post, and when I picked up the parcel from the Post Office I had [Greens’ deputy Yiorgos] Perdikis with me, because I suspected I would face problems later.”