CANNABIS farming could be coming to Scotland, following a change in UK law that permits 'psycho-active' varieties of the plant to be grown for medicinal use.

An Australian company has reportedly held talks with North Ayrshire council about identifying potential sites in Irvine where the first legal cannabis farm in Scotland could be established.

The company, LeafCann, which was recently granted a license to manufacture medicinal cannabis, established a UK subsidiary earlier this year, in the wake of a law change that recognised the medical value of the Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) produced by the plant, that was previously banned outright because of its use as a recreational drug, known variously as 'weed', 'dope', 'hash' or 'grass'.

Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants in the Cannabaceae family, which consists of three primary species – Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. While there has been a historical divide drawn between the so-called 'strains' of hemp and marijuana, based entirely on THC content, with hemp scoring low at 0.3% content dry weight, and anything yielding more than that regarded as illegal, botanists argue that the cannabis genus is a much broader church, and varieties of the plant produce a wide range of novel compounds – there are no less than 113 'cannabinoids' – many of which display medicinal properties.

Recent high profile cases of UK children afflicted with epilepsy whose conditions responded well to THC-based treatment, but who then struggled to secure a legal and regular supply of the drug, prompted a re-examination of the ban on the substance, which led Home Secretary Sajid Javid to legalise cannabis-based medicines late last year. Doctors can now prescribe THC products, most commonly to treat epilepsy or chronic pain, but in the absence of a cannabis supply chain in the UK – or at least not a legal one – the medications now being handed out by the NHS are imported.

Alongside the outright legalisation and commercialisation of cannabis production in some US states, and the well-established tolerance policy in The Netherlands, the UK government's shift to recognition of THC's medical worth may mark the beginning of further relaxations in the law, and raises the prospect of a new multi-purpose horticultural crop, with well-established demand, becoming available to growers.

Already, London-based Sativa Investments has been given planning permission for a 7.5-acre greenhouse to be constructed in rural Wiltshire, to grow THC-yielding plants for the medical market. It has been estimated that its facility could earn the firm around £32million per harvest.

However, the sensitivities around cannabis remain, so North Ayrshire council was not quite ready to sound too keen: “We are aware of interest from LeafCann and we’ve had initial discussions with them," said a spokesman. "There is nothing imminent or close to being agreed.”

Scottish Tory shadow health secretary Miles Briggs MSP said: “So long as it is strictly controlled then there should be no issue with it being grown. However any potential site must be agreed with the local community to make sure the views of local residents are taken into account, with site security clearly paramount.”

Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson, Monica Lennon, said: “It’s encouraging to hear that talks are underway that could lead to the improved availability of medicinal cannabis within Scotland’s NHS.”

LeafCann chief executive Elisabetta Faenza has commented: “After several years of company development, I am delighted that Leafcann can now begin in earnest to execute our business plan towards delivering medicinal cannabis products to the many patients whose conditions are not treated effectively by existing pharmaceuticals, and whose quality of life could be substantially improved."