Imported hemp seed 'held up' at border

Players in New Zealand's hemp industry say it is is being hamstrung by the apparent arbitrary use of regulation which is seeing legal consignments of non-viable seed held up at the border.

A Motueka Valley hemp grower, Steve Burnett, said he has had packages of dehulled seed, which were coming through Auckland, held since November.

He has since been told by NZ Customs officials he needed an importation permit, despite the seed not being able to be grown and his intention to manufacture it into body butter.

Former Green Party MP and hemp industry proponent Nandor Tanczos said the seizures were probably related to the 2012 approval by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (ANZFA) to allow the use of low level-THC hemp seed and seed oil as a food.

The Ministry of Health has subsequently asked for more information and the approval has since been repeatedly deferred, he said.

The course of action was similar to an approval application initially made in 1998 which was backed by the then Food Safety Authority but vetoed by the Ministry of Health. However, an exemption was given to allow the use of hemp seed oil as a food, which still stands.

Mr Tanczos said the continual deferrals, made despite approval of the proposal by officials, was a stalling tactic and made New Zealand an anomaly on the world stage where most countries allowed the use of hemp seed as a food.

He said the ministry's indecision over the status of hemp seed imports had also captured imported hemp seed products, such as hemp seed milk, which has been pulled off the shelves.

"It seems the different bureaucracies know there is something going on with hemp seed and have clamped down on it - it seems heavy handed, the improper approach and nonsensical."

Hemp seed came under the Misuse of Drugs Act but was treated differently as it was low in the active ingredient, THC. In addition dehulled seeds were not viable, he said.

However, Ministry of Health senior adviser Erina O'Donohue said hemp seeds were a controlled drug requiring an import licence regardless of whether they are viable seeds (which can grow into a hemp plant) or non-viable, de-hulled seeds. She confirmed two of Mr Burnett's packages of de-hulled seeds had been seized.

The Nelson Mail