Industrial hemp in Queensland

Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa) may also be referred to as industrial cannabis, Indian hemp or hemp. The plant has a long history, having been grown for the production of items such as textiles, paper, rope, fuel, oil and stockfeed. More recently, wider applications for industrial hemp have included composite building materials, oil and chemical absorption materials, animal bedding, kitty litter, motor vehicle insulation and linings - all produced from the fibre, as well as products derived from hemp oil which include cosmetics, paints, printing inks, solvents and animal feed.

The Cannabis sativa plant contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psycho-active (mind-altering) ingredient produced in specialised glands found primarily in the flowers surrounding the seeds, and to a lesser extent, on the leaf surface of the plant. No THC is found in the seed. The difference between industrial hemp and marijuana used for illicit drug purposes is that the THC exists in significantly lower concentrations in industrial hemp.

Generally, only Cannabis sativa with a THC concentration of 3% and above is considered attractive as marijuana and less than 3% is considered as industrial hemp. However, commercial-grown industrial cannabis plants grown for seed or fibre production in Queensland must not exceed 1% THC.

Note: Hemp is not approved as a human food in Australia.

Commercial fibre and seed production opportunities in Queensland

The Drugs Misuse Act 1986 (the Act), part 5B and the Drugs Misuse Regulation 1987 ( the Regulation) part 4 provides for people to engage in the commercial fibre and seed production of industrial cannabis, also known as industrial hemp, in Queensland under controlled conditions.

The object of part 5B of the Act is to facilitate the processing and marketing of, and trade in, industrial cannabis fibre and fibre products; the processing and marketing of, and trade in, industrial cannabis seed and seed products, other than for the purpose, directly or indirectly, of producing anything for administration to, or consumption or smoking by a person.

Part 5B of the Act, among other things, enables activities to be carried out under controlled conditions for the commercial production of industrial hemp fibre and seed; research into the use of industrial hemp as a commercial fibre and seed crop and plant breeding programs to develop new or improved strains of industrial hemp.

The Act provides for a system of licensing of growers and researchers and authorisations for other ancillary persons such as seed suppliers, seed denaturers, manufacturers and analysts. Coupled with this system of licensing and authorisations is a compliance monitoring program carried out by inspectors appointed for part 5B of the Act. People wishing to obtain a licence to engage in the commercial production of industrial hemp must meet strict eligibility and suitability requirements.

You can download the Act and Regulation for free from the Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel website or buy it online from the Queensland Government Bookshop.

Alternatively, contact the Customer Service Centre to order the legislation.

Licensing

If you intend to grow or research (plant breeding or other research) industrial hemp, you must have a licence. There are three licences available - a grower licence, category 1 researcher licence or category 2 researcher licence. The licence type you need depends how you intend to use this low-THC form of Cannabis sativa. Licences may be renewed every three years.

Licence applications are lodged with Biosecurity Queensland and must be made on the approved form and be accompanied with the prescribed fee.

Characteristics of each licence

Grower licence

This licence is required by growers wishing to grow industrial cannabis plants to produce industrial cannabis fibre or seed/grain. Licensed growers may produce industrial cannabis plants from certified cannabis seed (seed certified to produce plants with a THC concentration in their leaves and flowering heads of not more than 0.5%). However, the legislation states that industrial cannabis plants may have a THC concentration in their leaves and flowering heads of up to 1%. The difference recognises that the leaves and flowering heads of plants grown using certified cannabis seed may have more than 0.5% THC because of environmental conditions beyond a grower's control.

Despite the potential of the industrial hemp industry, grower licence applicants should thoughtfully weigh up the pros and cons of entering into production before applying for a licence, because the industry is very much in its infancy. Growing the crop may well be the easy part of the exercise. However, unless a market for the crop can be established, production could prove futile. Having established a market for your crop you should ensure that the necessary infrastructure is available to meet any processing requirements.

Category 1 researcher licence

This licence is required by researchers wishing to carry out research or plant breeding programs with class A research cannabis plants or seed; class B research cannabis plants and seed and industrial cannabis plants and seed.

For plant breeding programs to achieve best results, it is desirable to have access to all available characteristics. This process may require introducing new accessions into plant breeding programs possibly sourced from international seed banks or from the wild where the THC concentrations are unknown. For this purpose, researchers use class A research plants which have been defined as a cannabis plant that may have a THC concentration in its leaves and flowering heads of 3% or more. These plants may only be grown in a locked glasshouse.

A class B research cannabis plant, which is defined as having a THC concentration in its leaves and flowering heads of more than 1% but less than 3% can be used by licensed researchers who wish to draw from a relatively broad range of cultivars for the purposes of breeding and/ or crop agronomy for the selection of plants with desirable characteristics suitable for commercial production.

The final objective of all plant breeding will be to develop plant varieties with desirable characteristics and with a maximum THC concentration of 0.5% in their leaves and flowering heads from which seed will be multiplied to be sold as certified seed for commercial production, or for use as a manufactured product.

Category 2 researcher licence

This licence is required for those researchers who wish to engage in research or plant breeding of class B research cannabis plants and seed and industrial cannabis plants and seed only. In other words a licensed category 2 researcher is not permitted to use class A research cannabis plants and seeds for research or plant breeding purposes.

Authorisations and conditions for all three licences

The authorisations for these licences are set out in sections 50 to 52 of the Act. There are set conditions imposed on all licences provided in section 64 of the Act and section 29 and Schedule 8 of the Regulation. In addition the chief executive has imposed on all licensees a number of additional conditions considered necessary for the proper performance of activities authorised by the licence.

Licensees are required to:

  • notify when planting has taken place
  • advise under which licence and for what purpose planting has taken place
  • advise when plants have failed and how these failed plants have been dealt with
  • notify when plants are at the required stage in growth for sampling purposes
  • deal with plants once a licensee decides not to renew a licence and the licence has expired.

Licence renewal

A licensee may apply for renewal of their licence upon application to Biosecurity Queensland prior to the expiry date for the licence. An application for renewal must be made on the approved form and be accompanied by the prescribed renewal fee.

The Act provides for a licensee to continue to operate under their existing licence after its expiry date while their application for renewal is being considered.

Find out more about grower or researcher licences .

Authorisations for other industry participants

As well as licensees, other participants in the industrial hemp industry are provided for in the Act and must abide by conditions set out in the Regulation. These participants include:

Inspectors

Inspectors appointed under division 11 of part 5B of the Act will monitor and inspect the activities of licensees in accordance with certain powers (Act, division 12) to ensure compliance with the Act and Regulation. In undertaking these duties, inspectors may ask for documentation, check records, and take plant samples for THC analysis.

Inspectors also have the power to ask a licence holder for assistance, including, for example, to produce a document or to give information (Act, section 102). The conditions under which inspectors are authorised to operate are provided in the Regulation under division 5 and schedule 7(3).

Research officers 

Researchers employed by the department who conduct plant breeding research on Cannabis sativa must be authorised by the chief executive (Director-General). Conditions apply. (See sections 15, 16, 17, and schedules 7(2) and 9 of the Regulation).

Carriers

In accordance with section 12 of the Regulation, carriers engaged or employed by a category 1 or category 2 researcher, a grower, a DAFF researcher, an inspector, or a seed supplier are authorised to transport industrial cannabis plants or seed, class A or class B research cannabis or processed cannabis ('consigned cannabis').

Seed suppliers

To be recognised as an industrial cannabis seed supplier, application in writing must be made to the chief executive (Director-General). To be recognised, the business must have a current recognised quality assurance program that conforms to an industry standard or code of practice, and must be a member of the Queensland Seed Industry Association or a similar organisation in another state. Conditions apply. (See sections 20, 21, 27, and schedules 7(4) and 9 of the Regulation).

Denaturers

Under section 22 of the Regulation, the owner or operator of a facility which undertakes the processing of industrial cannabis seeds by cracking, de-hulling, heating, or treating in such a way that prevents seed germination is known as a denaturer, and is permitted to possess industrial cannabis seed for this purpose. The denaturer is then permitted to supply denatured seed to a person who is authorised to possess processed cannabis. Denatured seed would be used in manufacturing seed or oil products. The conditions which apply to denaturers are given in schedule 7(1) of the Regulation.

Manufacturers

Under section 23 of the Regulation, the owner or operator of a facility which uses industrial cannabis for or in manufacturing a product for wholesale or retail sale is permitted to possess processed cannabis.

Analysts

To conduct analysis of cannabis to determine its THC concentration a person must hold an approval, granted under the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996. The analyst can only analyse cannabis plant material in a laboratory whose functions and operations are accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia for technical competence to undertake drug analysis. (See section 24 and schedules 7(5) and 9 of the Regulation).

Family members of licensees

Under section 25 of the Regulation, immediate family members of a licensee are authorised to help the licensee perform functions associated with the growing and harvesting of industrial hemp.

Employees of authorised persons

Under section 26 of the Regulation, an employee, (which includes an agent) of a licence holder is authorised to perform activities associated with those of the licence holder.

Approved places under a licence where activities may take place

Section 55 of the Act requires licence applicants to specify the place or places in Queensland where the applicant proposes to carry on activities under the licence. It follows that licensees must advise Biosecurity Queensland in writing whenever they intend to change any arrangements with respect to adding or deleting places where licensed activities are intended to take place.

No licensing activity is to be carried out at a place which has not been approved by Biosecurity Queensland.

When a licensee, a member of the licensee´s immediate family or a genuine employee (including a bona fide agent) of a licensee are the only persons with access to industrial hemp growing at an approved place, all these persons are either covered by a licence or other authorisations under the Act. However, there are licensing considerations to take into account when a person who is none of the above owns or occupies the place or leases the place to the licensee for industrial hemp production purposes. Provided this person has no interest whatsoever in the actual growing of the crop, does not assist in any way with the production of the crop and is merely desirous of providing land for industrial hemp production then the person would not need a licence. However, Biosecurity Queensland needs to give prior approval of that land. It would also be necessary for Biosecurity Queensland to receive a written undertaking from the person leasing or otherwise providing the land of their non-involvement in the growing of the industrial cannabis on that land. Under this scenario only the licensee or immediate family members or employees (including an agent) of the licensee may be on the land with respect to actual production of industrial cannabis plants.

However, if an owner, occupier or lessor of land will be expected to assist with the plant´s production, for example, to carry out tasks such as but not limited to watering, fertilising or general weeding of the crop on that land, then that person must either seek a grower licence in his or her own right or there must be a written employment or agency agreement established with the licensee and the person owning, occupying or leasing the land. Biosecurity Queensland must be provided with a copy of the agreement which sets out clearly that the person is on fact an agent or employee of the licensee.

These requirements are in place to ensure that persons are not innocently found to be in illegal possession of Cannabis sativa under the Act possibly rendering them to the severe penalties for illegal possession under the Act.

If there is any doubt then the person concerned may be best to obtain a grower licence in their own right.

Compliance monitoring

Participation in the industrial hemp industry requires the activities of licensees to be monitored by inspectors appointed for part 5B of the Act.

Monitoring is based on a user-pays principle. Licensees must pay the reasonable costs of compliance monitoring activities performed under the licence, including any laboratory analysis necessary to determine the concentration of THC in the leaves and flowering heads of cannabis plants in the licence holder's possession. Licensees should expect to have their crops analysed for THC concentration. Where more than one variety of cannabis is grown, licence holders should expect to have each variety analysed for THC concentration. The cost of inspections is based on the time taken to conduct the inspection, plus their travelling time. Licensees should allow around $1,500 in their annual commercial hemp production budgets to cover these inspection and analytical costs. Where repeat inspections are necessary due to non-compliant behaviour, the licensee will be required to pay the full cost of these additional checks.

Licensees should also be prepared to make their records, required to be kept under the Act as a condition of their licence, available to an inspector for checking when requested to do so.

Information on growing

Information can be sourced from relevant industry or research groups, the internet, industry publications, journal articles and books.

Under section 8A of the Act, it is an offence to publish instructions, or possess a document containing instructions, about the way to produce a dangerous drug (which includes Cannabis sativa). Section 8A(2) of the Act however, provides a defence to such a charge in relation to the production of cannabis as a commercial fibre or seed crop, where a person can prove that the person published the instructions, or possessed the document containing the instructions, for the express purpose of commercial production of industrial cannabis.

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Seed supplies

Prior to making application for a grower licence, it is advisable that you ensure that seed supplies are available for the type of crop you wish to produce, and the climate in your growing region.

For example, although seed of temperate varieties can be sourced from Australian and foreign seed suppliers, agronomic trials in Queensland have shown that these varieties are not optimal for fibre production in Queensland's climatic conditions. Temperate varieties have a propensity to flower too early in summer to produce an economically viable yield of stems. Subtropical or tropical varieties of industrial hemp with a low concentration of THC are not yet widely available. For this reason, it is expected that a major focus on plant breeding over the next few years will be to develop suitable varieties for fibre production under Queensland conditions. Nevertheless, temperate varieties may be suitable for grain production.

Licensees wishing to acquire cannabis seed from overseas will need to comply with Australian Government importation protocols. Information can be found on the Australian Quarantine Inspection Services (AQIS) website.

Definitions

Note: the term 'industrial hemp' is used to include 'industrial cannabis' and 'research cannabis'.

Please refer to section 46 and section 4 of the Act for all the definitions relating to the commercial production of industrial cannabis. The following are some of the key definitions from these sections.

THC

THC is an abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), a psycho-active drug which is found in the leaves and flowering heads of Cannabis sativa plants.

Industrial cannabis plant

Means a cannabis plant with a THC concentration in its leaves and flowering heads of not more than 1%.

Industrial cannabis fibre

Means fibre from industrial cannabis plants.

Industrial cannabis seed

  1. cannabis seed harvested from an industrial cannabis plant, or
  2. certified cannabis seed.

Certified cannabis seed

Means seed certified, in the way prescribed under the Regulation by any of the following as seed that will produce cannabis plants with a THC concentration in their leaves and flowering heads of not more than 0.5%:

  1. a grower, or
  2. a category 1 or category 2 researcher, or
  3. a person authorised under the Regulation under section 48 of the Drugs Misuse Act 1986 to supply industrial cannabis seed.

Class A research cannabis plant

Means a cannabis plant that has a THC concentration in its leaves and flowering heads of 3% or more.

Class A research cannabis seed

  1. seed harvested from a class A research cannabis plant, or
  2. seed that, if grown, will produce a class A research cannabis plant.

Class B research cannabis plant

Means a cannabis plant that has a THC concentration in its leaves and flowering heads of more than 1% but less than 3%.

Class B research cannabis seed

  1. seed harvested from a class B research cannabis plant, or
  2. seed that, if grown, will produce a class B research cannabis plant.

Processed cannabis

Means:

  1. industrial cannabis plants that:
    1. have been harvested or chemically or mechanically treated or artificially treated in another way, and
    2. have no leaf, flowers or seed, or
  2. seed from industrial cannabis plants grown by a holder of a grower licence under part 5B and denatured:
    1. on the place stated in the licence, or
    2. by a person authorised under the Regulation under section 48 of the Act to denature the seed at another place.

Manufactured product

Means a product that:

  1. is made from, or partly from, processed cannabis that:
    1. is harvested from industrial cannabis plants, and
    2. has a concentration of THC in it of not more than 0.1%, and
  2. is in a form that stops it from being smoked or administered or consumed.

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Further information

Last updated 11 April 2013