PLANS are being made to convert greenhouses and other agricultural buildings into medicinal cannabis farms but growers are remaining tight-lipped due to the security and legal issues involved.
Earlier this week the JEP revealed that the Island was planning to issue licences to grow the crop with the hope of raising hundreds of millions in revenue from exports and re-invigorating the agricultural industry.
Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham said he wanted Jersey to take a lead in the emerging world market and carve out a new niche for the Island, which would be attractive to investors owing to its high levels of regulation and security.
The growing and exportation of medicinal cannabis would require tight regulation, security and monitoring.
The States has confirmed that a number of planning applications had already been received for ‘refurbishment of existing glasshouses and agricultural buildings’ and these were being processed.
Peter Le Maistre, president of the Jersey Farmers’ Union, said he knew that there was interest among the Island’s growers in cultivating medicinal cannabis but they wished to remain anonymous.
‘Perhaps because of the delicate nature of this subject and the security angle, no one appears to want to publicise their involvement at this time,’ he said.
‘What I do know is that there is some interest and some pre-planning is under way.
‘I understand that good-quality glasshouses would be suitable but also outbuildings, which is interesting because there are retired growers who have been unable to get change of use [planning permission] on their agricultural buildings but might find there is now a demand for them.’
He added that medicinal cannabis-growing would require considerable investment and a larger workforce than the current hemp-farming project that is taking place at Warwick Farm.
‘While the returns are high it should be made clear that upfront investment will be high, which might put some growers off,’ he said.
‘This is a completely different crop from the hemp that is being grown in open fields. The hemp crop requires little labour as the growing and harvest is all by machine. The cannabis crop could require at least ten people per vergée.’
Charlie Gallichan, of Woodside Farms in Trinity, said that medicinal cannabis would be a welcome alternative crop for the Island’s growers.
‘Current conditions in the Island for growing traditional crops are getting more challenging,’ he said.
‘So any research into alternative crops would be highly beneficial for the Island. We should continue to encourage biodiversity and also crops with increased [profit] margins, as we have increasing costs due to things like the rising minimum wage.
‘There is limited time that we can continue to grow the same crops on Jersey sustainably, so we do need to look for alternatives.
‘If this is handled correctly by the government then it’s a fantastic opportunity to give the Island’s agricultural industry long-term sustainability and viability.
‘This would complement the traditional industry, with crop rotation, but there is a lot more work to be done before we really know what the impact could be.’
Mr Gallichan said that he could be interested in cultivating the crop but it was ‘early days’.