Grand Forks Wants Hemp!
There’s no hemp in Hemptown, and their Mayor got busted at the border
Grand Forks is poised to become the centre of BC’s agricultural hemp industry. The Russian Doukhabor community, who farmed hemp in Grand Forks when they first arrived here, are elated. Agriculture Canada, it seems, would have it otherwise.
BC Hemp Falls Behind
Early in 1995, a group of Grand Forks hempsters joined forces to create the Granby Hemp Co-op. They wanted to grow hemp in Grand Forks, but were turned down for a hemp growing licence by Agriculture Canada, even while Ontario was entering its second year of experimental hemp cultivation.
Co-op member Brian Taylor protested the decision by growing industrial-grade cannabis on his front lawn in the shape of the word “HEMP”. He then cut stalks and leaves from his plants and sent them to the RCMP. He was arrested in July of 1995 and formal charges of “marijuana cultivation” were laid in December of that year.
The next year, the Granby Hemp Co-op’s licence application was again rejected by Agriculture Canada. To add insult to injury, a large shipment of seed bound for Grand Forks was destroyed by Canada Customs without due process, under directions from the Ministry of Agriculture. In response, Lee Wells, president of the Granby Hemp Co-op, began to file a law suit against the government.
Thing weren’t going so well for the Co-op. “We’re so far behind,” complained Brian Taylor, “we can’t afford another year.”
The Mayor of Hemptown
Still facing charges, Brian Taylor decided to run for mayor of Grand Forks ? and won a solid victory. Suddenly everything changed. Says Taylor, “All the cultivation charges were stayed by crown prosecutor John Cooper, who was convinced that it was a waste of public funds to proceed on this matter.”
Since that time John Cooper has become Mayor of Osoyoos, has himself become an advocate of hemp farming, and has formed a partnership with his former courtroom adversary. Together they are working on a strategy to develop the hemp industry in the South Okanagan.
Brian Taylor and John Cooper have a common vision for hemp farming in areas with a low volume of agricultural land base, such as Grand Forks and the South Okanagan. According to Taylor, they are “…ideal for research and development, seed production, oil, and the whole hybridizing and selective breeding process that needs to happen.”
In the Summer of 1997, the Granby Hemp Co-op finally received their first licence to grow hemp. “The licence was legally in the name of the Granby Hemp Co-op,” said Taylor, “and there were five identified growers within that licence.”
In an attempt to cement relations between the Granby Co-op and Agriculture Canada, Lee Wells decided not to file a law suit against the government for destroying the Co-op’s hemp seed the previous year.
Agriculture Canada Delays Planting
There are still a few snags for the Granby Co-op to prune, not the least of which is the attitude of Agriculture Canada, which still seems to favour Ontario farmers in its regulatory and licensing decisions.
The Co-op’s hemp licence didn’t arrive until June 12, which meant that they couldn’t fulfill the terms set out in their application, namely both planting and testing of the finished product. Farmers in Ontario, who applied at the same time, received their licences from Agriculture Canada in May.
Agriculture Canada also changed the sanitary regulations for imported hemp seed while the Co-op’s seed was in transit between Canada and the Ukraine. Since the seed must be certified when departing from the exporting country, the Co-op couldn’t legally plant.
“That was the big delay,” said Wells, “that delayed us a month and a half. Through contacting and recontacting people at Agriculture Canada in Ottawa, we eventually learned that they had already tested the seed and that it did meet the requirements.”
The Granby Hemp Co-op finally managed to get its seed into the ground, but didn’t have enough growing season left to test the quality of the finished product.
There is still plenty of room for investment in Grand Forks nascent hemp industry. Says Wells, “We are in the process now of finalizing the setup of a company that would allow public investment in the primary processing of material.”
Mayor Brian Taylor sees Grand Forks developing a biotechnical centre for hemp research in Western Canada, with its own research institute. He continues to encourage hemp entrepreneurs to come to cannabis-friendly Grand Forks.