Parliament on Thursday adopted a motion to legalise the farming of industrial hemp, but a human rights activist has warned that it must not be mistaken for Indian hemp, locally known as chamba.
Billy Banda, one of the advocates of the cultivation of industrial hemp, said in an interview on Saturday that elsewhere, companies use industrial hemp to make lightweight material that looks like a floor mat.
He said suppliers for auto manufacturers—such as Ford, Mercedes Benz and General Motors—buy sheets of the material, which is heated and moulded into door panels, trunk liners and other interior vehicle parts, emphasising the economic gain of the hemp.
The passing of the motion in Parliament, which will now await President Peter Mutharika to assent, has brought some excitement among Malawians that chamba, which is illegal, would now be cultivated for high economic gains.
Banda, who is executive director of Malawi Watch, warned that people should not mistake industrial hemp for chamba, adding that the difference between the two is huge.
He said people cannot get high by smoking the so-called industrial hemp because it has only a trace amount of the same psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana.
Banda said: “Of course, chamba growers can take advantage of this legislation because it is difficult to differentiate marijuana and industrial hemp. Government is also expected to give proper guidance on variety of the hemp to grow.”
The activist said he expected government to give proper guidance when issuing licences for farmers to cultivate it, warning handling it wrongly may promote the growing of the illegal chamba.
According to our research on www.southbendtribute.com, industrial hemp can be grown for its seed or fibre. Among other things, it is used to make food products, clothing, paper, plastics and composite materials that can be found in skateboards, cars and aircraft bodies.
It can also be used to produce hemp oil, seeds and crackers.
The search reveals that hemp is commonly found in northern Indiana in the United States of America, where it grows wild each year and has been difficult for authorities to eradicate.
Its origin in the region goes back to the early 1940s when the US government planted it to aid the World War II effort. Its strong fibre material was used to make parachute cords.
Indiana passed a law in 2014 that set the groundwork for hemp farming to begin.