Government to explore potential for development of hemp industry

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The Government has started a consultation process to explore the possibilities for the development of an industrial fibre sector using hemp.

Advocates for the sector including Hemp Cooperative Ireland, whose members include farmers, engineers and scientists, argue that Irish-grown hemp has significant potential as a renewable agricultural cash crop suitable for industrial applications including building insulation, cloth making and even low-carbon cement production. 

While hemp can be produced here and was once widely grown for rope making, its closeness to cannabis means even industrial use is effectively banned under drugs legislation. 

However, the Programme for Government, published last year, committed to exploring the potential for growing fibre crops such as hemp and to consider whether the crops have a viable market.

Hemp growing by farmers is subject to the granting of a licence by the Health Products Regulatory Authority, which operates under the auspices of the Department of Health.

Hemp fibres are mainly exported to mainland Europe for use in the manufacture of car parts, textiles and construction materials.

But there is no legal exemption in Ireland under the current Misuse of Drugs legislative for any amount of the narcotic component of hemp and cannabis, THC, to be present in produce, resulting in a barrier to processing here.

The Department of Agriculture is understood to be reviewing the current regime here. Some European countries allow for hemp-derived finished products to contain trace amounts of THC.

In a letter last month to the Department of Agriculture, another advocacy group, Hemp Federation Ireland, argued for a wider review saying the current consultation framework “limits our experts to discussing only the stalk of the plant and precludes any discussion of actual farm income potentials, supply chain economics, or highly monetised EU policy support”.

The Federation claimed that the Department of Agriculture consultation “aims at knowledge production in support of a Programme for Government proposal for a fibre development of the sector”.

“The economic viability of the entire European hemp sector is dependent on farmers being able to utilise and benefit financially from all parts of the hemp crop,” it said.

 

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