Cannabis industry: Tasmanian councils look to hemp to boost jobs

Councils around Tasmania are pushing for industrial and medical cannabis in a bid to drive jobs growth in regional areas.

Farmers have been trying to grow industrial hemp for fibre for years, but have struggled with regulatory hurdles.

The State Government recently rejected a medical cannabis growing trial, citing concerns about safety and social harm.

Tasmania’s unemployment rate stands at 7.5 per cent, in trend terms, compared to 6 per cent nationally.

In recent years, contraction in Tasmania’s traditional industrial powerhouses of forestry and mining have hit hard in regional areas, and that has flowed on to contractors and businesses that rely on them.

Now councils are turning to the potential that industrial and medical cannabis may hold as a value-added crop.

Last month, Minister for Primary Industries Jeremy Rockliff pledged to make the establishment of a hemp industry in Tasmania a priority.

Mr Rockliff said there was far too much regulation associated with growing hemp, more so than with the pharmaceutical poppy industry.

«Where government … needs to play a role is reducing the red tape around that so we’re not creating any disincentives for people to come into the industry and explore the industry its in the developmental stage … but there’s a huge opportunity there in my view,» he said.

Filling the mining gap


A report commissioned as part of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement shows from a peak in 2008, more than 250 timber businesses have closed, with a loss of nearly 4,000 jobs.

About 350 mining jobs are set to go on the state’s west coast, with the closure of the Henty and Mount Lyell mines.

In the wake of the shutdowns, a west coast jobs taskforce was established to help the community diversify its economy.

West Coast mayor Robyn Gerrity said the council has been inundated with ideas for alternative industries, including four separate proposals to grow medicinal cannabis.

She told ABC’s Country Hour this week the community is not looking for exit packages like those offered in response to the forestry downturn.

«The Federal Government gave so many millions of dollars and it was literally just handed to the contractors that didn’t have a job and we don’t want that, we want to use this money wisely so that it can be job creating, and jobs that are sustainable for the future, for the children of the current miners, even their grandchildren,» Ms Gerrity said.

Bio-pharmaceuticals seen as growth industry


The Huon Valley Council has called on the State Government to reconsider its position on a medicinal cannabis trial in Tasmania.

The council voted unanimously last night to endorse a motion in favour of supporting medicinal cannabis use in the state.

Deputy Mayor Michael Wilson said growing the drug in the Huon Valley would be a huge boost to the economy.

«It could employ anywhere between 30 and 40 people in the initial stages of setting this type of thing up, there are buildings that could very much utilised for this purpose,» he said.

Tonight the Derwent Valley Council will consider establishing a working group to develop a policy position on growing hemp for medicinal, fibre and food production in the southern region.

Council papers note «on the surface there is considerable support for the production of hemp for food and fibre and a growing support for the controlled production of hemp for medicinal purposes».

The potential for value adding industrial hemp and medicinal cannabis is on the minds of councillors in the states north-east as well.

Next week, Dorset Council will discuss how to pursue opportunities to grow and process industrial hemp, medicinal cannabis and other bio-pharmaceutical products.

Dorset mayor Barry Jarvis believes growing and processing such products could provide economic opportunities for the north-east.

«There’s certainly a lot of opportunity in the value-add for health bars and non-dairy products … oils out of industrial hemp so that would need some processing,» he said.

«Tasmania is looking for some value-add and niche market crops, why shouldn’t we get into it, we grow most goods very, very well.

«Certainly, part of the agenda item is to look at industrial and medicinal cannabis and certainly with the topical nature of medicinal cannabis at the moment … I certainly support trials of medicinal cannabis.

Mr Jarvis says he hopes to further investigate opportunities with bio-pharmaceutical companies over the next 12 months.

«We believe if we can grow stuff in the north-east … it gives us the jobs in the processing sector that we haven’t got now.»


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