growing marijuna in Australia - who can do it?

It seems there is still quite a bit of confusion about what this year’s legislative changes mean – both at state and federal levels. In this article, we give you a quick breakdown of the major federal change and what it means.

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Recently, in response to the legislative changes made by the Federal Government, we have been contacted by quite a few people looking for information about how they can start their own cannabis farm or shop, here in Australia.

It seems there is still quite a bit of confusion about what this year’s legislative changes mean – both at state and federal levels. In this article, we give you a quick breakdown of the major federal change and what it means.

What are the changes that have been made?

Earlier in the year, the Federal Government made changes to the Narcotic Drugs Act of 1967, which allow cannabis to be cultivated legally in Australia. Following on from this, it was announced a site in northern New South Wales would be the first farm to produce cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Since then, Victoria and New South Wales have been looking at how cannabis cultivation can be accommodated in each state. Victoria recently passed legislation allowing the manufacture, supply and access to medicinal cannabis, and then set about establishing a small cultivation trial. New South Wales received permission from the Federal Government to conduct cannabis cultivation research and start growing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Sweet! So now I can swap the carrots growing in my backyard for cannabis?

Not so fast. Before you grab the shovel and watering can, let’s get this straight: no, you can’t start growing and consuming your own marijuana in Australia – it’s still illegal.

Why not?

There are several reasons. First of all, you will need to be granted a licence from the Federal Government. The new legislation is only intended for cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes. That is, cannabis can only be grown in Australia under stringent guidelines, and even then, it can only be used to supply government-approved, fully licenced manufacturers.

The production of cannabis in Australia is primarily intended to supply pharmaceutical preparations of the drug, so chemicals can be extracted from the plant in a controlled scientific setting. It’s kind of like the situation we already have in Tasmania where tightly-controlled poppy farms produce opioids to create medicine. At this point, it’s not intended to be a situation like in the USA, where growers can supply dispensaries where the product is intended to be smoked or consumed with very little understanding of exactly what is in each dose.

Even if you do want to grow cannabis to treat an illness, there is a strict set of rules around who is allowed to grow it. Growing licences from the government, will have a range of requirements associated with them, including a criminal history check, a suitable property for growing, appropriate security to prevent theft, and only certain strains will be allowed to be grown.

Getting a licence to grow medical cannabis could also take a while. The Victorian Agriculture Minister has already indicated it could take up to four years from initial application to approval.

But hasn’t it been legal to grow hemp in Australia for a while?

Yes, it has been legal to grow hemp containing low levels of THC in Australia for some time now. Although a variety of cannabis sativa, hemp is not the same plant and is only grown for industrial use. It has been used to create lots of different products, from health foods to textiles. The hemp farmed here has such low levels of THC it doesn’t provide any high when smoked or consumed.

The recent changes to cannabis cultivation laws have also caused some challenges for hemp growers who intend on supplying medicinal cannabis manufacturers and researchers, because anything classed as medicinal cannabis must now be grown in a glasshouse. Barry Lambert recently spoke about how the new laws will affect his ability to continue growing hemp, which he supplies to Sydney University to undertake research into cannabinoids. You can read more about the story here.

What does all this mean for recreational cannabis?

It’s still illegal to buy or sell cannabis in Australia, with the various penalties in different states remaining the same. In terms of cultivating, you could still get in a lot of trouble if you are caught growing cannabis without the right permits.

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