What grows like a weed and looks like weed, but isn't weed?

The answer is hemp, and it's becoming a budding industry in New Zealand.

Horowhenua Hemp is a catchy brand name, according to the District's mayor Michael Feyen.

Mr Feyen has been lobbying for an investigation into the viability of growing hemp locally, believing it could help some of the district's environmental issues and boost the economy.

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The global market for hemp seeds was worth around $1 billion, and its legalisation could eventually generate up to $20m in exports

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Mr Feyen put the idea to Horowhenua District Council late last year, however council voted not to look into its viability in the region.

So Mr Feyen took matters into his own hands.

Last week New Zealand's inaugural iHemp Summit was held in Wellington and featured local and international speakers who represented farmers, government, industry leaders and iwi.

Mr Feyen used his mayoral budget to attend the summit, taking with him a local farmer, a Maori land representative and councillor Ross Campbell.

He says New Zealand is far behind much of the world which has been using this healthy, lucrative and environmentally-friendly product for decades.

The decision to legalise hemp seed as food in New Zealand was made in April last year, but the process has been tied up in The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

This was 43-year-old legislation that is overdue for a revamp, according to Ministry of Health director of protection, regulation and assurance Stewart Jessamine.

"It's time to revisit [the Act's] fundamental assumptions...sometimes the law can be an ass," he said.

Hemp seed oil can already be legally sold in New Zealand, but the pending law changes expected next year will allow hemp seed to be sold as food.

In its application, hemp and marijuana serve entirely different purposes.

Marijuana, as it is widely known, is used for medicinal or recreational purposes.

Hemp is used in a variety of other applications, which include healthy dietary supplements, skin products, clothing and building materials.

Food Safety Minister David Bennett said hemp has no psychoactive effect and is considered nutritious and safe to eat.

"The global market for hemp seeds was worth around $1 billion, and its legalisation could eventually generate up to $20 million in exports," he said.

Mr Bennett described it as an exciting new industry.

"These seeds do not require either fertiliser or irrigation.

"Because of the low inputs, research has put the farm gate revenue for hemp seed between $4000 and $5000 per hectare."

"The growth of the seeds will also lead to job creation in New Zealand from processing the seed crop into oil, flour, protein and hulled hemp seeds."

Midlands Seed, based in Ashburton, has been an active industry participant driving legislative change in NZ and a representative spoke at the summit.

Its director Andrew Davidson has led Midlands' involvement in the hemp seed supply chain in both New Zealand and Australia since the company's first hemp seed harvest in 2002.

He said the hemp industry needed a broadacre commercial scale, experienced growers and capability to process and use the whole plant.

"This requires capital investment for infrastructure and technology."

Mayor Feyen felt that Council had a role to play, particularly in educating the region on the opportunity that hemp holds.

Founder of Cookie Time and One Square Meal Michael Mayell also spoke at the summit.

He eats three tablespoons of hulled hemp seeds every day and wears hemp clothing, a bio-degradable product.

Mr Mayell says that hemp is the solution to the pollution of rivers and waterways.
Hemp has the ability to remove contaminants from soils, sludges, sediments, and surface water, he said.

In the 1990s, following the earlier nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, along with other plants, hemp was used to clean the soil of contaminating metals in areas near the nuclear power plant. Former Shannon potato farmer Ian Easton attended the summit and said he discovered that opportunities are "immense" in Horowhenua.

"The biggest hassle the industry has is hemp is tarred with the stigma of cannabis," he said.

However as the government works to untangle the legislation to allow the sale of hemp products, he said farmers need to look at building a processing facility and preparing for the "huge" opportunity.

He said he felt that if Council wanted to promote local industries, they should step in and look at supporting and encouraging a local hemp industry.

Mayor Feyen said that Council should be "on the ball," looking at the growing employment opportunities and environmental benefits the industry could bring Horowhenua.

"Council needs to look at how to best assist with enabling that to happen," he said.

"But whenever I vote white, council votes black."