Home > Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine debate. Development of the hemp sector in Ireland: discussion.

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine debate. Development of the hemp sector in Ireland: discussion. (23 Feb 2022)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/joint_...

Chairman: I welcome representatives of Hemp Cooperative Ireland, Ms Kate Carmody, chairperson, Mr. Eoin Carew, secretary and Mr. Declan Darcy, treasurer and from the Hemp Federation Ireland, Ms Chris Allen, the director and Mr. Marcus John McCabe, expert advisory board member.

Ms Kate Carmody: I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to it today on this important issue. I am here in my role as chair of Hemp Cooperative Ireland, which was set up in May 2018 by myself, other farmers and interested parties. It came about because we shared a vision of the great potential for hemp cultivation in Ireland. We now have 262 shareholders, made up of farmers, processors and supporters of the industry. We have eight board members of various backgrounds who volunteer their time as they are passionate about the development of the industry....

Ms Chris Allen: I thank the Chairman and the committee for this opportunity to discuss the development of the Irish hemp industry. I am the director of Hemp Federation Ireland, HFI, which is Ireland's national hemp industry stakeholder body. I am joined by my colleague Mr. McCabe, who is a member of our advisory board on agriculture. He is an organics and permaculture expert and has grown and processed more than 80% of all hemp grown in Ireland in the past two decades.

The Irish hemp industry is one of the oldest in the European Union, with a small but fully operational supply chain since the 1990s. Irish hemp farmers and industry operators are among Europe's leading industry authorities. Europe's oldest dedicated hemp retail outlet is situated in Dublin.

There are nine EU statutory instruments establishing the legal basis for the operation of the European agricultural market in hemp and hemp-derived products, all of which are immediately applicable to Ireland. Article 34 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union further protects the integrity of the operation of the Single Market in hemp and derived products. In addition, three European Court of Justice rulings going back to 2008 all positively clarify various aspects of the operation of the EU hemp market. The tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, content in hemp is not illegal under Irish misuse of drugs legislation as a direct consequence of the primacy of EU law.

The support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for Commission regulations establishing the EU hemp industry has driven the development of the Irish hemp sector since the 1970s. Indeed, during Ireland's Presidency of the EU in 2004, the extension of trade in hemp between member states was a priority for the then Minister for Agriculture and Food, Joe Walsh of Fianna Fáil. Mr. Walsh secured EU regulatory amendments which would serve to extend the operation of the EU agricultural hemp market into the future.

In November 2020, a particularly clear European Court of Justice decision in case C-663/18, also known as the Kanavape ruling, again confirmed the legality and scientific safety of hemp and derived products in Europe. The supremacy of the European Court of Justice in interpreting both EU law and the treaties is acknowledged by Ireland and all Irish regulators. Indeed, on 20 October 2021, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Thomas Byrne, advised the Oireachtas committee of Ireland's policy in this regard, stating:

As EU member states, there is an onus on us all to comply with determinations of the European Court of Justice with a view to maintaining our shared legal order. As part of membership of the Union, it is also essential that member states accept the primacy of European Union law, which is a principle of the European Union going back to a time prior to when Ireland was a member.

The website of the European Commission website carries the following clarifying information on hemp:

Hemp (Cannabis sativa Linn) is a species in the Cannabaceae family in which the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is very low, according to the provisions under the common agricultural policy (CAP). Hemp is grown primarily for its industrial uses and there are 75 different hemp varieties registered in the EU catalogue. Due to the very low level of THC, hemp complying with the provisions of the CAP is not used to produce narcotic drugs.

Much of the present confusion in Ireland in respect of hemp results from the transfer of primary responsibility for the agricultural hemp sector to the Department of Health. Much of the discourse emerging from the health committee discussions on medicinal cannabis in the context of our farm crop and products adds to this confusion. In November 2016, Dr. Lorraine Nolan of the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, appeared before the Oireachtas health committee to discuss access to medicinal cannabis. In her opening statement she advised, "Cannabis is prohibited other than in specified circumstances where all activities relating to cultivation, manufacture and supply of cannabis, and products containing THC, are subject to licence." However, the licensing procedures described by Dr. Nolan apply only to cannabis and have never applied to the trace amounts of 0.2% THC naturally found in agricultural hemp. Medicines and food exist in entirely separate regulatory frameworks.

In 2017, Dr. Nolan again attended the Oireachtas health committee to discuss access to medicinal cannabis. On that occasion, Mr. Eugene Lennon, principal officer in the medicines and controlled drugs unit in the Department of Health, was also in attendance. Having brought up the subject of hemp food supplements, Mr. Lennon was asked, "Is there an acceptable level of THC?" by the committee Chairman in a follow-up question. Mr. Lennon replied:

As the law stands, only trace elements are acceptable. Otherwise, it becomes a controlled drug and a licence is required.

[For the full debate, click here for the Oireachtas website]

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