Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Canadian industry wants Ottawa to free it from outdated rules for the crop still treated like a controlled drug

By John Miner

Towering hemp plants are shown in this file photo from a University of Kentucky research farm. (Associated Press)

Canada’s hemp industry is demanding the federal government liberate it from antiquated regulations, a move it says could help revive interest in Ontario production and processing.
Despite no health safety concerns since it was legalized for farmers to grow in Canada 20 years ago, hemp, related to the marijuana plant, is still treated the same as heroin and cocaine, the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance said.
“The paperwork and the administrative burden is not for the faint of heart. That, in itself, prevents people from being interested in the crop,” said Kim Shukla, executive director of the Alliance.
Shukla said there’s no doubt the hemp industry would expand if the federal government relaxed the regulations. The alliance is asking the government to treat hemp the same as crops such as canola and wheat.
When Canada first lifted the ban on hemp production in 1998, Ontario was one of the first provinces to embrace industrial hemp production, Shukla said.
Some Ontario companies were looking at establishing fibre-processing plants in Ontario, including one in Delaware near London.
That plan was dropped because of difficulties finding financing for the project.
There’s still some hemp-seed breeding work being done in the province by a handful of growers, but production has largely shifted to Alberta and Manitoba, Shukla said.
A report by the Alberta Agriculture Ministry pegged the number of seeded industrial hemp acres in Ontario at just 874 in 2011, down from 2,873 in 1998.
Alberta farmers seeded 15,892 acres to hemp in 2011, followed by Manitoba with 11,352 acres and Saskatchewan with 9.984.
“We haven’t had a lot of support in Ontario from the Ontario government, unlike what we have seen in other provinces. We have seen significant support in Manitoba, and particularly in Alberta, and that is why we have seen that industry take off,” Shukla said.
The Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance submitted suggested changes to the government seven years ago but hasn’t received a reply.
“Seven years to wait for a response is ridiculous. They didn’t even bother to respond by phone or in writing to us. That is horrendous,” Shukla said.
The alliance said Canada’s hemp industry is in jeopardy from rapid developments in other countries, particularly the United States, the largest market for Canadian hemp products.
More than 20 U.S. states have passed legislation to allow industrial hemp production since 2014 and there is a proposal to entirely lift the ban.
Canada’s industrial hemp regulations include requiring processors to test all batches for their level of THC, the same chemical that gives marijuana its hallucinogenic effect.
There’s a significant cost to the testing but Health Canada has never gone back to processors to ask for the results, Shukla said.
At the same time, growers are required to have a criminal check every year.
“We are saying to them, does this necessarily have to be done every year?”
Shukla said the alliance hopes the Trudeau government will agree to changing the regulations.
“We are hoping this is a government of change, we are hoping this is a government that will take action. They have said as much,” she said.
Hemp facts:
  • Industrial hemp is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world.
  • Its fibres have been used to make rope, sails and clothing.
  • Main market for Canadian hemp is the food industry.
  • Banned in North America in 1930s because its leaves and flowers contain THC, a hallucinogenic drug.
  • Outlawed internationally in 1961 under United Nations drug convention.
  • In 1998, Canada created regulations under its drug law allowing controlled production of hemp.
*Source: Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

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