Let farmers grow hashish, says Tory

13 July 2001

Let farmers grow hashish, says Tory

By Johann Tasker

FORMER Tory cabinet minister Peter Lilley has called for British farmers to be allowed to grow cannabis under proposals which would see the drug legalised.

Mr Lilley, who was deputy Conservative Party leader from 1998-99, is the most senior politician to call for the legalisation of cannabis.

His comments have already triggered a political debate about the drug after they were published in a pamphlet by the Social Market Foundation think-tank.

Mr Lilley has since told FARMERS WEEKLY: “Legalisation is necessary in a restricted form.

It would cease to be illegal to grow cannabis for personal use or for people to grow it to supply specially licensed outlets. That would include farmers as well.”

Hemp – a narcotic-free relative of cannabis – is already grown in Britain for industrial fibre. The end product is often used to make car-panels.

Farmers growing the crop under strict conditions for companies such as Hemcore can achieve potential gross margins of about 480/ha (195/acre).

Hemcore director Ian Low said he would be wary about growing cannabis for narcotic purposes. What happens on the narcotics side is up to the politicians.”

He added: “We do not want to be dragged into a legalise cannabis debate, we want to be taken seriously as a producer of industrial fibres.

But David Wright, an expert in hemp from Bangor University School of Agriculture, said cannabis may be a lucrative money-spinner for some farmers.

“To the best of my knowledge there are no differences in the climatic and soil requirements of different hemp varieties.

So I cant see any reason why you could not grow cannabis in the UK.

Hemp is a low input crop, needs few fertilisers or pesticides, grows well in the climate, and fits in with farming systems.”

Dr Wright is researching ways of improving the yield of legal hemp varieties.

Ten local farmers are taking part in hemp and flax trials to improve the crop in a project to ensure a ready market for fibre.

But it looks some way off before British farmers will be able to grow cannabis on a large scale for drug-use or as a “pick your own” enterprise.

The police have enough difficulty safe-guarding GM trials, let alone vast swathes of hashish. It is likely that cannabis would be grown in glasshouses.

LibDem agriculture spokesman, Colin Breed, agreed. He added: “If it did become a legal crop then I am sure some farmers would want to grow it.

But it would have to be under strictly controlled conditions, possibly within secure compounds.”


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