Kazakhstan Considers Marijuana Paper Industry

Marijuana and hemp - Kazakhstan
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There’s a lot of marijuana growing wild in Kazakhstan – but instead of destroying it, authorities are considering using it to make paper.

Please note: no Borat jokes have been used in penning this article.

According to the BBC, Kazakhstan’s Chuy Valley is home to what’s believed to be the largest natural cannabis field in the world. Estimates vary – it’s been said much of the more than 4,000 square kilometres of land is covered by it and at the other end of the scale, 140 kilometres. Either way, it’s a lot of cannabis.

It’s also very common in other places in the country, including the Kazakh capital, Astana. Last year, tens of thousands of cannabis plants were found growing along two major streets.

It wasn’t clear from the reports whether these were marijuana plants or industrial hemp; but a little digging around reveals it’s pretty potent stuff that grows in the country. Industrial hemp is usually associated with low levels of tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), a psychoactive cannabinoid.

It’s become unviable to simply destroy these plants, so Kazakhstan Deputy Prime Minister Dariga Nazarbayeva has suggested another option – turn the cannabis plants into paper for use in banknotes, wrapping paper and office applications. Textiles could be an additional possibility.

It appears the country doesn’t manufacture much of the paper it consumes, which is a rather sore point in Kazakhstan.

A local paper production company is already harvesting in four regions of Kazakhstan for testing purposes, and in 2017 a $100 million plant is to be built to process the crop. Given the apparently high THC levels of the plants, a process will be put in place to destroy the cannabinoid.

A couple of years ago, Ms. Nazarbayeva also suggested the country lease some of the Chuy Valley to international pharmaceutical companies for medical cannabis production.

With Ms. Nazarbayeva’s passion for the plant’s potential, eyebrows have been raised regarding her enthusiasm; but she has assured reporters her interest is purely non-recreational.

As in many other countries, Kazakhstan faces the same sorts of legal hurdles in realising this vision – legislation that differentiates between marijuana and hemp. In Kazakhstan’s case, it may be a little more complex when its “hemp” has such high THC levels.