Indian hemp will be grown legally in Victoria for the first time, to be used for making paper, fabric and food, under field trials announced yesterday by the State Governement.
Ten farming plots of strains of hemp containing low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the plant's psychoactive ingredient present in illegal cannanbis - will be grow for the next three years.
The Minister fot Agriculture, Mr McGrath, said the trails did not indicate a loosening of the drug laws.
"The trial should in no way be seen as decriminalising marijuana," Mr McGrath said. "We dont want to give any support to the illict drug trade."
He said the hemp plantations would be closely watched be the Health Department, police and Agriculture Victoria, and tested for THC levels during the growing season.
"Applicants for permits will also have to undergo police checks and demonstrate they can achieve satisfactory field site security," Mr McGrath said.
The trial crops likely to be planted in August or September, will be destroyed if the THC levels exceed 0.35 per cent. Illict cannabis has a THC level from 3 to 10 per cent.
Mr McGrath said the Government had already received more than 100 expressions of interest to grow the crop, mostly from farmers, paper manufacturers and clothing companies.
Most farm applications were from the Wimmera, Mallee and north-east Victoria.
Mr McGrath said hemp could be used for high-quality newsprint paper, fibre products such as chipboard, pure hemp and blended fabrics, and food products.
"The paper and cardboard industry believe there is potential for hemp fibre to replace wood pulp in the manufacture of newsprint products," he said.
The Government's decision to allow low-toxicity hemp plantations follows similar crops in Tasmania and South Australia, where the plant is being assesed for its agronomic, ecomonic and environmental potential.
Indian hemp is also grow legally for manufacturing purposes in countries such as France, Hungary, Britain, the United States, Poland, China, India and Thailand.