THREE people, who were arrested last May for growing industrial hemp in Avgorou and had some 1,600 plants seized and destroyed, have had all charges against them dropped by the Larnaca court following the instructions of Attorney-general Costas Clerides, one of the defendants said on Thursday.
The defendants, two hemp farmers from Avgorou and the woman who provided them the seeds, had threatened to sue the government as the plants came from certified hemp seeds bought from France.
Hemp, or industrial cannabis, contains less than 0.2 per cent Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in cannabis and is legal to grow in the EU irrespective of national law. In fact it is subsidised.
It was this detail that urged the AG to give instructions for charges to be dropped according to one of the defendants, the person who provided the seeds. Maria, who does not wish to reveal her last name is also an administrator of the Medical Cannabis-Ιατρική Κάνναβη group on Facebook.
In Cyprus even though cannabis is technically illegal, the state is still forced to subsidise it since EU law overrides national law. Thus, hemp is officially included in the Agricultural Payments Organisation’s (KOAP) list of subsidised products, with a €42-per-donum subsidy.
The gap in national legislation however, caused trouble for the two hemp farmers in Avgorou and to Maria who provided them with the seeds because the drug squad YKAN had said that they were only doing their job since cannabis cultivation was illegal under Cyprus law.
“When we initially went to court, we put forth the question whether our national legislation as regards this issue is legal. In Cyprus existing legislation does not differentiate between industrial cannabis and medical cannabis,” Maria told the Cyprus Mail. She said that on Wednesday when their charges were dropped, they were not given any explanation as to why neither verbally nor in writing. “Was it because our legislation is illegal?” she asked.
By dropping the charges the government basically avoided having the existing legislation challenged by the defendants, she added.
According to Maria’s lawyer Demetris Kallenos, this move on the part of the AG “should concern the authorities and provide the incentive for the prompt promotion of procedures to harmonise and legalise industrial cannabis in Cyprus, which in any case is an obligation of the Republic of Cyprus based on EU legislation”.
In an announcement, posted on Medical Cannabis-Ιατρική Κάνναβη’s wall, Kallenos said that since the beginning of the trial, defence lawyers had challenged the fact that police could proceed with the case based on the existing law on drugs which dates back to 1977, and which has not been harmonised with EU legislation.
But even the proposed legislation on legalisation of industrial cannabis which the cabinet approved in September, is still in violation of EU laws, Maria said. The bill has yet to reach the House agriculture committee where it will be discussed before presented to the plenum for a vote.
The bill, according to the agriculture ministry, provides for restrictions on the size of the plot to be cultivated with hemp. It stipulates that it should not be smaller than the size announced by the competent authority. Furthermore, potential hemp harvesters need to submit relevant applications and receive permission to be considered as legal hemp producers. All costs will fall on the applicants.
This means that a handful of industrial plants cultivated by individuals on small patches for their own use will still be illegal.
“These provisions are also in violation of EU legislation, as hemp seeds, hemp oil and hemp flour are included in the EU’s catalogue of feed materials, which means that we are allowed to cultivate them without special permission for personal use,” Maria said.
She said according to the relevant bill presented to them during an open consultation with the agriculture ministry, hemp seed importers in Cyprus will have to buy seeds from the EU’s list of providers.
“The EU legislation stipulates that you only need to get seeds from that list if you intend on applying for subsidies. If however you are not planning on filing for subsidies, you do not need to get the seeds from these providers but from whoever has certified hemp seeds, and you do not have to pay for lab tests,” she said.
Maria, who had planted hemp some two years ago in a field in a Nicosia village and organised the first hemp harvest, 80 years after it became illegal on the island, said that even though she had applied for KOAP subsidies and she had paid the lab tests, she has yet to receive the subsidy she is entitled to.