Guyana’s National Assembly has passed a hemp bill that puts tight restrictions on the sector to prevent unlicensed production, threatening fines and jail time for violators.
Passed earlier this week, the bill establishes a board-managed Industrial Hemp Regulatory Authority (IHRA) to administer licensing, set cultivation quotas and collaborate with the Customs Anti Narcotic Unit in the monitoring of production.
While the bill decriminalizes hemp cultivation under a dividing line between hemp and marijuana at 0.3% THC, it also empowers authorities to search producers’ premises and seize property if they are suspected of growing without a permit. Unlicensed hemp operators could be fined up to $500,000 and receive one-year prison sentences.
Also, IHRA board members could face fines of $200,000 for failing to disclose conflicts of interest or for disclosing information that relates to the work of the Authority.
3 license categories
Separate licenses would be granted for hemp farming, manufacturing and research under the bill, which authorizes processing of all parts of the hemp plant. All derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts and salts of isomers derived from hemp plants that express no more than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis would be legal.
Planting seed must be analyzed prior to cultivation and crops must be tested before harvesting to assure compliance with the THC limit, according to provisions in the law.
With the Ministry of Agriculture authorized to designate areas for hemp cultivation, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall said cultivation and processing is planned to begin in two depressed regions, East Berbice Corentyne (Region Six) and Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice (Region 10).
Hemp proponents in Guyana see economic benefits not only from hemp farming and processing, but see potential knock-on commerce in the marketing, banking, insurance and retailing sectors.
Supporters have cited studies they say show that planting 100,000 hectares (~250,000 acres) could create 40,000-50,000 sustainable jobs, and income from carbon credits and the production of rope, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, bioplastics, insulation and biofuel.
The government of President Irfaan Ali sees hemp production as a way to shore up the agriculture sector, which has seen declines in key crops such as rice and sugarcane – a Guyana staple crop that has collapsed by more than 50% in recent years. The government also sees a role for hemp in diversifying the broader Guyanese economy while simultaneously pursuing the country’s Low Carbon Development Strategy.
“Hemp production in Guyana is a win-win situation for all the players involved,” said Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha, who piloted the bill, noting the new law will also pave the way for local research.
“For the grower, it will be a source of income generation and job creation. For the consumers, it would have significant benefits, and for the broader economy, it would be a valuable source of foreign exchange, especially in the context of economic diversification,” Zulfikar added.
Hemp has traveled a long road in Guyana after stakeholders first identified its potential in 2017, when they suggested a domestic hemp industry could employ idle farmers. The government ruled out the legalization of hemp farming at the time, with the country’s Minister of State rationalizing a continued ban over Guyana’s notoriety as a port for drug traffickers.
Under other provisions in the law passed this week:
- The IHRA board is to be appointed by the Minister of Agriculture and include representatives from the Ministries of Health and Home Affairs, the Guyana Forensic Lab, the Private Sector Commission and two other persons.
- Planting seed must be analyzed prior to cultivation and crops must be tested before harvesting to assure compliance under the 0.3% THC limit.
- Cultivation licensing encompasses possession, planting, propagating, harvesting, transport, distribution and sales.
- Manufacturing licensing authorizes all activities related to the processing, distribution and exporting of hemp products.
- When licenses are suspended or revoked, the IHRA must notify the Commissioner of Police.
- Producers stripped of their permits must surrender any stocks of seeds and hemp products.
- Designation of growing areas is to be based on the suitability of location, the risk of diversion, the risk of contamination, economic decentralization, and proximity to educational institutions, public places and residential areas frequented by children.