A bill for the cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp was adopted by the Cabinet on Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis said.
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, Kouyialis said.
“These are very strict regulations, which follow the development from the time the seed is introduced in Cyprus until the moment you put the plant on the market,” he said. At the same time there would be an amendment to the drugs law which allows the cultivation of industrial hemp, he added.
Kouyialis differentiated between industrial hemp and medical marijuana, saying the latter was another plant entirely with different seeds. The issue of medical marijuana was a complex subject that was still under discussion with the health ministry, he added.
Kouyialis said the hemp bill was deemed necessary 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.
“For us it is am EU harmonising action. This means that those who will be licensed to cultivate industrial hemp will be entitled to a subsidy,” he said, adding that in order to qualify however, anyone who engages in the production need to explain the reasons for the production of industrial hemp and where and what it will be used for.
He said producers must have contract s for disposal of the industrial hemp, must prove that the seeds are for hemp cultivation and have their crops inspected regularly by the ministry of agriculture.
There are also restrictions on the size of the land plot that is to be cultivated with hemp. This means that a handful of plants planted by individuals in small patches of land will still be illegal.
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 was illegal under Cyprus law.
The new bill will now 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.