By Constantinos Psillides
Hemp farmers are looking into suing the government after the drug squad seized around 1,600 hemp plants in a field in Avgorou last week and arrested the owner and a 42-old woman who sold him the seeds.
A source, who did not wish to be identified, told the Cyprus Mail that the plants were indeed hemp, which has a much lower concentration of THC, the psychoactive element in cannabis.
“The plants were out in the open and the farmer bought certified hemp seeds from France,” said the source, pointing out that hemp cultivation in EU is not only legal but also subsidised.
A Facebook page called Ιατρική Κάνναβη (Medical Cannabis), on a post dated May 8 claims that those involved came in contact with authorities to resolve the matter. The page claims that Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou assured the farmers that their names would be cleared.
Nicolaou denied the claims. “I never promised anyone that we will their names cleared. Cleared how? Have the police issue a statement saying that they were wrong? What I said was that I would hear their side of the story and pass it to the police chief and the office of the attorney general. It is up to them to decide how to handle the case,” the justice minister said on Monday.
Asked to comment on the possibility of a lawsuit, Nicolaou said that “they are allowed to do so, as is everyone who feels he has been wronged by the government. We don’t want to pick a fight with anyone but if they choose to go that way they are certainly within their rights to do so,” he said.
Earlier in the week the page administrator posted a certificate picture from France, claiming that the seeds were indeed hemp, along with a bill from the Cyprus Agricultural Payments Organisation (KOAP) regarding lab analysis on the seeds.
The page administrator repeatedly states that if their names are not cleared they will sue the state.
A source within the drug squad YKAN told the Cyprus Mail that police officers were only doing their job. “Look, cannabis cultivation is illegal under Cyprus law. There’s no two ways about it. The farmers and the woman have offered some claims and we are looking into them,” the source said, pointing that they didn’t file for a licence with KOAP, a licence that doesn’t exist as Cyprus still doesn’t differentiate hemp from other types of cannabis. The “licence” in question is actually a request for subsidy.
While cannabis is technically illegal, the state is still forced to subsidise it since EU law overrides national law.
What YKAN punishes, KOAP subsidises. Hemp is officially included in its list of subsidised products, with a €42-per-donum subsidy.
“It is not YKAN’s job to sort through this mess. We do our best to enforce the law. We will complete the investigation and send the file to the Law Office of the Republic. The rest is up to them,” said the source, adding that woman was arrested because she provided the farmers with seeds, a crime punishable with up to seven years in jail.
Cyprus has long struggled with hemp cultivation. A bill that has been in limbo since 2005 has just recently made its way to the legal service for legislative control. The bill will introduce hemp cultivation and implement a number of safeguards to assure that drug dealers will not take advantage of the new legislation.
Hemp, a harmless variety of the cannabis plant that is used mostly in manufacture of textiles and clothing, has long been classified as illegal in Cyprus, due to the fact that the plant is indistinguishable from marijuana plants.
Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis could not be reached for comment.