A local entrepreneur is adding to a wave of industrial hemp licences being issued across the country.
Ministry of Health senior media adviser Lucy Hall said the number of active hemp licences had increased by 83 in two months.
There were at present 252 active industrial hemp licences across New Zealand, and two of these were within the Central Otago area.
Three applications were being processed for licences in Central Otago and one application was being processed for the Queenstown Lakes District.
TJ Irvin, of Hawea, said he had been granted a licence to grow Cannabis sativa (industrial hemp) to be used as building material.
He aims to use his licence to create “hemp concrete” that will enable people to “grow their own house”.
He is encouraging farmers in Central Otago and the Lakes District to consider growing cannabis to offset their carbon footprint.
Mr Irvin is the inventor behind the multipurpose Slammer digging tool, and wanted to find a way to offset the carbon involved in production of the tool in China.
He began working with a farmer to develop “an environmental and economic solution” to sequester carbon.
“We have a lot of people that want to grow their own house, and they want to validate all the trips that they do in their cars, on aeroplanes, on boats.
“They want to absorb the carbon they produce and be able to lock it up in inexpensive building materials.”
A trial of about 1ha in the West Coast had been promising, and now he hoped to develop a local building material created from industrial hemp on 8ha of land in Hawea.
“What we are using is a Government-approved cultivar and it’s mostly sativa that produces a crop that will grow to three to four metres in 100 days.”
The aim was to grow industrial hemp to create insulated houses that had a low environmental cost.
“Affordable housing helps the people that want to move here and it also helps the farmers being able to provide an alternative crop.”
Cannabis sativa produced more oxygen per acre than any other plant, absorbing 22 tonnes of carbon in one acre of cannabis, Mr Irvin said.
This could be done seasonally, “whereas if we grow trees, that property is locked up for 30 years”.
manager Chris James said a licence was required to procure, cultivate and supply industrial hemp in New Zealand, and to process industrial hemp into specified hemp products.
The licensing framework was administered by Medsafe through the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006.
“Industrial hemp general licences can allow cultivation, processing, possession and supply of low THC cannabis varieties approved by the Director-general of Health for industrial purposes.”
Licences issued under these regulations could not be used for the production of medicinal cannabis, he said.
Queenstown Lakes District Council spokesman Jack Barlow said monitoring and regulating industrial hemp was primarily the responsibility of central government.
“Anyone undertaking a hemp growing activity in the district would be subject to the rules and requirements set out within the Operative and Proposed District Plans and would need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”
Police spokeswoman Abigail Thomas said a licence holder would need to abide by the obligations under the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006.
Under clause 18 of the legislation the director-general can choose to request a criminal record check of the applicant.
INDUSTRIAL HEMP LICENCES
Active licences as at September 30, 2019 = 252; at July 31, 2019 = 169; at July 31, 2018 = 65; at July 31, 2017 = 57