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Hemp vision for Leigh Creek - but no room at the table

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A group of Leigh Creek locals believes vast crops of industrial hemp could sow the seeds of the town’s economic salvation – but they’re incensed to have been snubbed by yesterday’s ministerial roundtable.

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Industry insiders advocating for both industrial hemp and medicinal cannabis met with Innovation Minister Kyam Maher yesterday to begin drawing a roadmap for state regulation.

But despite Maher also being responsible for overseeing Leigh Creek’s transition from coal in the wake of Alinta Energy’s decision to cease its operations there, there was no place at the table yesterday for a representative from the Friends of Flinders Communities.

The local group is dedicated to salvaging the Leigh Creek mine site under the moniker of the Sir Thomas Playford Heritage Park – a multi-million dollar proposal to establish a hybrid-energy hub and museum tracking the town’s history in coal.

Spokesman Nigel Carney says the site is well-placed to capitalise on industrial hemp, assuming local production is green-lit by prospective legislation introduced last year by Greens MLC Tammy Franks.

“I see it as a huge opportunity up here,” Carney told InDaily.

“We’re doing this heritage work on a major project to reuse the Leigh Creek coalfields, and land rehabilitation will be the first phase of that.”

He said there was “no shortage of water up here”, insisting even the mine’s contaminated water could be used for growing industrial hemp.

“There’s all the logical ingredients for a fantastic project to provide revenue… and help land rehabilitation,” he said.

“We’ve got all the ticks here for a brilliant project.”

He said industrial hemp was a fast-growing crop that could be grown to maturity in 90 days.

However, Carney’s request to participate in the industry roundtable was knocked back last week, with the department’s industry consultant telling him in an email “we are unable to extend you an invitation at this late stage”.

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Maher chairing the marijuana industry roundtable. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“Most of the people attending are already involved in the industry so we will be gathering information in order to determine next steps,” the email continued.

“Your proposal will be examined and considered but, at this point in time, I am not sure who will be contacting you.”

Carney said: “I think it’s sad that [the process] appears to be going down that path [of being] restricted to lobby groups.”

Maher told InDaily in a statement that “the industrial hemp and medicinal cannabis roundtable was intended as a constructive discussion with key stakeholders, including industry groups, companies and subject experts, to inform the state government of any potential barriers to the development of these industries in SA”.

“Those invited were selected on the basis of their ability to inform the government of these potential barriers and what further steps needed to be taken to progress the development of both industries,” he said.

“I’m advised the Department of State Development is in contact with other individuals and companies who expressed an interest in attending, to provide them with information and offer advice on how they may progress their involvement in a future medicinal cannabis or industrial hemp industry.”

Franks said it was “disappointing if groups couldn’t be at the table” but was enthusiastic about the progress achieved at the meeting.

“What was exciting was that we had to move to a bigger venue because the interest was so great,” she said.

“It was an incredibly productive meeting, particularly in regard to industrial hemp.”

Maher said he had told the industrial hemp advocates he would report back within a month with a regulatory pathway, while the medicinal marijuana industry would hear from him within 90 days.

Medical marijuana proponent Ben Fitzsimons, whose company Australian Cannabis Corporation made headlines last year with a proposal to grow the crop at Holden’s doomed Elizabeth site, said the roundtable was “very positive”.

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Ben Fitzsimons at yesterday’s meeting. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

He said Maher’s commitment to return with a detailed roadmap was “as close as you’re going to get to a politician giving a guarantee”.

“He seems absolutely legit, absolutely engaged,” he said.

“He asked good questions, and he had the right people in the room that could give him the answers he was seeking.”

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