South Australian Hemp Growers Hit By Theft

Industrial hemp in South Australia
Image: PIRSA

South Australia’s nascent hemp industry is facing an issue also plaguing U.S. hemp farmers – theft of crops.

As we’ve often mentioned here on HempGazette, industrial hemp and marijuana are very different looking plants that are grown differently. Industrial hemp is grown tightly packed, skinny and tall; whereas marijuana is grown shorter, bushier and more spread out. Furthermore, industrial hemp has very little of the psychoactive compound THC – so little that it will not provide a high no matter how much is consumed.

But apparently the differences aren’t known by some in South Australia – either that or they are ripping off farmers to sell hemp as marijuana to the unsuspecting – once dried, it looks and smells much the same. Aside from not getting what they paid for, those buying this hemp could also be exposing themselves to pesticides the crop may have been sprayed with.

This hemp is probably not even good for extraction of CBD, a valuable compound prized and scrutinized for its potential in managing or treating a range of health conditions. Currently, industrial hemp in South Australia is only grown for food and fiber purposes, not cannabidiol (CBD). That being the case, it’s quite likely the strains being grown in SA would also be low in CBD.

The theft situation in the state is such that a South Australian Government department has issued a warning to hemp thieves.

“It is just not worth the risk to try and steal them,” said Michael McManus from Primary Industries and Regions SA’s (PIRSA’s) biosecurity division. “Industrial hemp should not be confused with medicinal cannabis or marijuana. This crop is essentially just like any other agricultural crop such as wheat or barley.”

As well as facing prosecution for trespass, possession of industrial hemp plants without a licence is a serious offence in the state; so those caught could face hefty fines or even jail time.

SA hemp farmers have had a bunch of hurdles to clear to get this far and theft is something they shouldn’t be having to contend with. At present, there are only 11 producers licensed to grow industrial hemp in the state. However, Mr. McManus says the SA sector will continue to grow.

“Based on current predictions, it is anticipated that within five years a small and expanding industrial hemp industry will be established in this state with a farm gate value of $3 million a year,” he said.