Irish semi-state company Bord na Móna is exploring the feasibility of converting thousands of hectares of its land into vast cannabis farms.

Bord na Móna was created by the Turf Development Act in 1946 with the aim of developing and harvesting state-owned peatlands across the Midlands of Ireland. Peat is known as turf in Ireland and Bord na Móna harvests it in in huge patches of land known as bogs, before cutting and drying it to provide fuel for homes and businesses.

However, the process creates greenhouse gas blamed for global warming and it has fallen foul of EU law, so it will be phased out by 2030. Bord na Móna, which has more than 2,000 employees, is now assessing the viability of turning some of the bogs into sprawling cannabis farms.

It has a land bank of 80,000 hectares and 5,000 hectares could be converted into marijuana farms if the scheme is approved and regulatory hurdles are cleared.

Minister of State for Natural Resources Seán Canney and Minister for Health Simon Harris have held meetings with the semi-state firm’s management to discuss the plans.

Canney said the scheme “could create a lot of jobs” and “has real potential”. Around 500 people will lose their jobs in the next six years as Bord na Móna scales back its traditional turf-cutting operations, and launching medical cannabis farms would be a way of safeguarding those jobs, creating more employment opportunities and bolstering the Irish economy.

Canney said that Bord na Móna could supply the domestic market, target exports and contract grow for marijuana programs in other countries.

“Instinctively I think in the medium term this is something that would make sense for Ireland to try to have its own supply,” said Harris after signing legislation that ushers in a five-year pilot scheme called the Medical Cannabis Access Programme across Ireland this summer.

That represented a significant breakthrough for patients that had long campaigned for access to the medicine they need, and last month Canadian producer Tilray successfully delivered cannabis oil to Ireland for the first time.

Doctors are now permitted to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients who have not responded to standard treatments for qualifying conditions such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

A legal industry should have been rolled out much earlier, but it was delayed as the government struggled to find an appropriate supplier. It has now ticked that box and a tentative scheme is underway, but the next logical step would be a domestic cultivation industry.