Poppies in Victoria
The Victorian Government has established a strict regulatory framework to enable a commercial alkaloid poppy industry to operate in Victoria.
Alkaloid poppies are grown to extract the valuable opiates they contain (such as morphine, codeine and thebaine) for use in producing pain-relieving (therapeutic) medicines.
Following trials in 2013, a number of commercial crops for therapeutic purposes have been planted at locations around Victoria since mid-2014.
The development of a poppy industry in Victoria will provide economic benefits to the state and help meet a growing world demand for pain-relieving medicines.
It is illegal to take, use, sell or grow poppies without a licence from the Victorian Government. Illegal possession of poppy plant parts or substances derived from poppies is a criminal offence and attracts heavy penalties.
Poppies cannot be grown in Victoria without a cultivation licence (issued by Agriculture Victoria) and a valid contract with a licensed processing company.
Producers interested in growing poppies in Victoria should first contact a licenced processor to express their interest.
Licensed processors in Victoria are:
In Victoria, poppy crops will be planted between autumn and spring and harvested between December and February.
After flowering, the poppy capsules develop and dry out. The dry capsules and a small amount of stem are harvested for processing.
The leftover straw will be ploughed in within seven days of harvest.
Access to poppy crops
A person cannot enter a poppy crop unless they are accompanied at all times by the licence holder, an employee of the licence holder, or an authorised Agriculture Victoria inspector. If you see any unusual or suspicious behaviour near poppy crops, please report it to Victoria Police.
Signs will be placed at gates and around the boundaries of a crop, with the warning that entry is prohibited and illegal use of the crop may cause death.
Poppy crops are grown in various locations across regional Victoria. As a result, employees of shire councils, utility services (water authorities and telecommunication or energy companies) and emergency services may encounter poppy crops in the course of their business.
If an employee of a local authority or utility service needs to enter land on which poppies are grown, they must first contact the licence holder to arrange access.
If the licence holder cannot be contacted, the employee should call the Customer Service Centre on 136 186.
Emergency services employees should also contact the licence holder before entering poppy crops, unless there is an emergency situation or similar circumstances.
Consequences of misuse
The opiates found in alkaloid poppies are potentially dangerous if misused, so Victorian poppy production is occurring in a highly regulated environment.
Poppies grown in Victoria can be extremely toxic due to the quantities of thebaine that they may contain. Alkaloid poppies may might look identical to other poppy varieties and cultivars but they are chemically very different and can be highly toxic to humans.
Thebaine in its raw form is a toxic opiate alkaloid and only laboratory testing can confirm the quantities present. The well-known opiate alkaloid morphine may also be present in Victoria's poppies, however it is impossible to identify which ones with the naked eye and misuse of morphine can have serious consequences. Poppies grown in Victoria require industrial processing to produce the compounds valued for medicines.
Symptoms of thebaine poisoning include life-threatening convulsions, sensitivity to light, sound and touch, frantic pacing and muscle tremors. At high doses, thebaine and morphine intoxication can cause death.
Any ingestion of poppy plants should be treated as an emergency – call 000 immediately for an ambulance.