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MP gets the lowdown on hemp and marijuana

PAGE MP Kevin Hogan admitted that until yesterday his understanding of the difference between hemp and marijuana was murky.

But after sitting down with hemp expert Paul Benhaim, who founded Bangalow-based Hemp Foods Australia, Mr Hogan said he understood that hemp was not a drug.

The problem is, at least a few of his state and federal colleagues may not see it that way.

Mr Benhaim is hoping repeated recommendations by the Food Standards authority to legalise the hemp as a food are supported by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

But despite visits to Bangalow by Federal Health Minister Fiona Nash and NSW Agricultural Minister Katrina Hodgkinson, who are both supportive, prejudice against fully legalising hemp remains at the highest levels.

Mr Benhaim said he understood both NSW and Queensland Police were against the proposal, due to it potentially interfering with their roadside drug-testing methods, despite only tiny and inactive properties of the plant's psychoactive compound THC.

HEMP food

  • Hemp seeds are high in omega 3, 6, and 9 essential oils. In the right proportions they help regulate blood clotting, body temperature, blood pressure, reproduction and immune function.
  • It contains all the amino acids which make up a complete protein, in a highly digestible form.
  • It's a plant-based protein; less energy intensive than meat-based proteins, so better for the environment.
  • Requires minimal processing.

A final decision on the Food Standards' recommendation has been postponed three times now and the next meeting by COAG on the matter is next February.

LEGAL BATTLE: Kevin Hogan, Page MP, trying some Hemp seeds at Hemp Foods Australia warehouse in Bangalow, with CEO Paul Benhaim.
LEGAL BATTLE: Kevin Hogan, Page MP, trying some Hemp seeds at Hemp Foods Australia warehouse in Bangalow, with CEO Paul Benhaim. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Mr Benhaim likened banning hemp seeds to a ban on poppy seeds because of their link to heroin.

"We just have to explain to them that this is a serious business - everywhere else in the world is using hemp as food," Mr Benhaim said.

"In Japan, they've got the best Japanese chefs using it in their restaurants.

"In the UK before I left... I was selling hemp seeds to old-age pensioners for their joint pains."

Wanting to create a sustainable Australian agriculture industry out of hemp, Mr Benhaim said he had offered to pay 50% more for local grown seeds than the ones he imports from overseas.

"We actually have talked to (local) farmers and some of the biggest grain farmers of this area are west of Casino," he said.

"We can't get enough organically grown Australian hemp seeds."

Coles and Woolworths would stock their product if it was legal, too.

Mr Hogan warned he couldn't deal with state governments, nor was the Federal Government the dominant force at COAG.

But he did promise to speak with Health Minister Fiona Nash and was "very open-minded" about the industry and its potential to create jobs.

The difference between hemp and marijuana

INDUSTRIAL hemp is a relative of the stouter, bushy version of cannabis sativa which gets you high, but it could be a world apart.

Unfortunately, until recently, it has suffered the prejudice of being related to a drug and we have missed out on its benefits.

Hemp, only has miniscule levels of THC, the compound which gives marijuana users a high.

It's a fantastically versatile material, and can be used to make clothing, paper, and even houses, to name just three.

According to website Hemp Basics, hemp paper will last longer without degrading, can be recycled many more times, and requires less toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process than tree paper.

Hemp can be harvested in just 120 days compared to the years it takes to grow a tree.

It's understood that one hectare of hemp can grow the equivalent quantity of three hectares of cotton.

Hemp can also grow in most climates throughout the world with only minor water and fertilizer requirements, no pesticides, and no herbicides.

Topics:  hemp marijuana



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