Hemp hunting in the icefields of Ottawa

Legal hemp is coming soon to a field near you? licensed, controlled and tightly regulated.
The Golden Heart of Hemp

The Canadian government has been discretely looking into the golden heart of hemp for a number of years. Test farms have demonstrated the safety and value of Canadian-grown hemp as an important new raw material.

Federal number crunchers have determined that hemp deserves a chance to show what it can do on a free market. The Canadian Senate took up the task of ferrying the hemp agenda across the bitter waters of drug legislation and tossed a time bomb at the Health Minister to make ready the way for a fully regulated commercial-industrial hemp industry – the short fuse for spring planting.

On January 25, 26 and 27, hemp stakeholders (there?s that word again) met with government officials to run the proposed hemp regulations through one last wash of review before the final version, as the feds put it, “goes up the chute”. Once there, the word weasels will grease it for swift passage into law. Wow!

Just another crop

Health Canada remains the boss of hemp. Hemp is cannabis and cannabis is regarded as a controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) which has arrived into formal reality with a hemp amendment riveted on, recognizing the distinction between hemp and its evil twin, marijuana.

New regulations will allow much more hemp to be grown and processed in Canada under a greatly expanded Health Canada program of easier to obtain licenses and permits.

Ghostbusters at the Ministry of Agriculture have rolled coins at the hemp initiative and welcome its return to the farm menu. They are tackling the viable seed question and preparing technical manuals and regulatory guidelines for the expected flood of applications to grow hemp from farmers across the country.

Once hemp is deemed “just another crop”, and has met THC content requirements, it will then have to pass through the criteria of standing agriculture law. And, if produced for edible purposes, food inspection. Normalization of hemp will not come without accountability, for it will continue to be a closely watched activity and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Just get the regs in place

Havoc from heaven derailed the original last waltz hemp meeting, crippling the nation?s capital under a billion buckets of frozen varathane. Postponement gnawed deeply into the timetable viscera, but everyone was cool as we gathered for the final whack at the hemp pi?ata before the iron jaws of law snapped shut.

It was obvious that the hemp agenda was being pushed hard by unseen anxious ?berfeds, coaxing Health Canada to erect a fence of containment and knit a compliance fitness trail that Canadian farmers can live with. We took the hint and the farmers and seed people lead the way into the crossfire.

Director General of Therapeutics at Health Canada, Mr Dan Michaels, tells us that the process is way behind schedule, and to just get the ‘regs’ in place ? there will be some sort of review tune up in 2 years. Maybe then there will be some relaxing of reporting be worked out, once everyone gets some practical experience. “There will be no changes in the CDSA in my lifetime” he says. Note: he’s healthy.

This means that industrial hemp remains under house arrest and only Health Canada gives the OK to grow, process or distribute this controlled substance.

Showing nothing on a regular basis

In many ways “Modern Industrial Hemp in Canada” will be compelled to operate under pretty much the same terms as the AnslingerMurphy 1930’s version of prohibition. It is different only in complexity of compliance reporting, seed certifications and more sensitive (and expensive) chemical testing for THC.

When all is said and done, it will cost the hemp farmer about $70 an acre for all the THC lab work the government requires. This is based on one gas chromatography technician doing 25-40 THC tests a day at $160 per sample.

Now that ultra low THC hemp varieties are the industry’s norm, it will be very expensive to keep showing this again and again and again.

The farmers wince at the federal wall of paperwork on the grounds that, in all likelihood, THC won’t even occur. Yet they must pay big money to demonstrate nothing on a regular basis. People in laboratories are deciding to go into farm practice. There is no crop insurance for excess THC readings and the practical farmers ask the blunt question: Why?

As if the entire United Nations will be popping by to browse through warehouses of bilingual lab reports which a large domestic hemp industry will generate. The THC menace continues to deploy technical services better suited for more useful tasks than measuring captive vegetation.

No subsidies, just reporting

When a prototype hemp application form was projected on the podium screen, hemp farmer Jean Laprise remarked that “it looks like an income tax form.” There are certainly no bonuses or subsidies for hemp, only airtight reporting.

Neils Hansen-Trip, the seed man presenting for Health Canada, notes that the regulations are aimed at prevention and remedy. “It’s all about records,” he says, “not police scrutiny.” Controls on hemp seed will be greater than controls on the stalk, as it is the seed ? for sowing or pressing ? that is the critical point in THC containment.

Law is a game of hair splitting by degree of what normal people just argue about over coffee. It is conducted in a language of precision that scrubs the story down from basic humanity to the point of the impersonal.

Granted, it is a big shift in social engineering to tame the hemp elephant and watch how it behaves itself over the next couple of years. Governing the forbidden cannot be an easy job.

The federal heave-ho

It is vain to bargain for a full spectrum amnesty for hemp at this point in social evolution. Tossing hemp seed out the window and hoping for the magic beanstalk to grow doesn’t cut it with our government, which must oblige world law and regulate hemp to international standards, as well as provide access to the market for Canadian producers, big and small.

To show how much they mean business, our hosts asked the Ohio Hempery’s Don Wirtshafter to leave the hemp sessions. Even through he had been invited and had not said anything, zipola!, to the sidewalk. Was it because of his American origins that such cold discourtesy was due to one of the continent’s most innovative hempmeisters? We made sure his “1998 Ohio Hempery” catalogs were handed out, and fed him microwaved bear meat at night.

Also tossed oh-you-tee of the hemp proceedings was long-time 1st Nation hemp activist Don Dear. He endured the federal heave-ho with dignity.

Conversing with the rule makers

The sandwich table provided the best insight into the federal soul, as a free range bureaucrat mentioned how “prohibition is the easiest control mechanism.” This mundane glimpse into the murky core of prohibition suggests cheesy sloth at the centre, and many fiscal years of deliberate ignorance to shore it up. I’m glad it’s not my job to rake out the stables.

By chance, near the elevator, I witnessed an impromptu lecture by a gruff RCMP official who boasted how he oversaw the destruction of 23,000 marijuana plants across Central Ontario last year. He quoted old research from the Addiction Research Foundation that pot destroys the mind over time. He said that he “would come down hard on any marijuana, anywhere?” ? and hurled a vintage Miami Vice one-liner as he gently crushed an empty Pepsi can ? “?even on Jean Laprise.” (Dum-da-dum-dum).

Hemp farmer Jean Laprise himself stood on the other side of a potted palm, completely unaware, waiting for an elevator for a meeting with the guy’s boss. Everyone was doing their job that day.

Where else but in the city of the beaver keepers would vous findez not one, but two intoxicated toxicologists in a mood to inform. “It would cost the government a half million dollars in lab and court costs to nail just one uncompliant farmer ? so please, please don’t anyone break the law, nobody can afford it.”

Honour by chemical analysis may go a long way in defusing the melodrama of the people vs THC. Some education in the guardhouses is certainly long overdue.

Our American Cousins

No mention was made of the USA, even though the Americans may be our best hemp customer in the unfolding continental hemp-o-rama. However, the world’s most drug-soaked nation will probably demand zero-tolerance?, kosher hemp from Canada, even to the point of the clinically ridiculous. This can be done, and will have to be done if Canadian hemp bikinis are to grace the beaches of their mighty nation in my lifetime. The surf for hemp is up, and it’s gnarly.

Jerzy Przytyk, hemp breeder and director of the year-old Canadian Industrial Hemp Council, notes the tendency of nations to harmonize trade regulations. “If the USA rejects Canadian hemp, we will not be able to defend it in world court if our regulations are fuzzy.” He goes on to remind me “What is important is where we want to get to, and not to become frustrated about not being there yet.”

Days before we were huddled in Ottawa to launch Canadian hemp into orbit, the annual convention of the American Farm Federation, representing 4.6 million members, met in Charlotte, North Carolina to consider pursuing American hemp. A special committee advanced fears that hemp supporters also tend to want to legalize marijuana, that the market is still uncertain, and that they have no hemp processing infrastructure.

From zero to hero

The weary clan of hemp hopefuls in Ottawa, wired on conference coffee, mingle to murmur. They have seen the map to hemp island, and plot how to sail under the regulatory banner to launch an industry of their own making when they arrive.

While Revenue Canada fans tarriff schedules in their vulture sanctuary down the street, the curious alliance lines up to enter the hempen arena, and will walk the plank of compliance for two years and then a review. One big happy family on stackable chairs, all wanting to go home and get ready for the regulatory gates to raise.

Then BOOM! Like everything else in our cool, rad history of colossal scale raw material management, zero to hero in short order is now possible. It looks like hemp will survive, tough old weed, and just in time. Hemp in the year of the tiger.

Hemp fever

Cloakroom chit-chat is where continental drift issues get ironed out. A Scandinavian observer twinkled as he said “there is hemp fever in Europe, but this? now this?” I expected dry-ice fog to swirl as he stepped into the elevator, “watch out for hemp fever,” the robot box doors closed and he disappeared.

Dealing with reality

Restaurant. Bad service, old music – deprogramming on a cup of tea. Puzzled by a single sentence in the conference literature that somehow suggests a zen back-flip riddle of the most wonderful word weaselly order. It pretty much sums up the new breed of Canadian hemp people and their dog-catcher relationship with their own federal government. I quote thus? from the “Dealing with Reality” page:

? Regulations would not be concerned about ‘industrial hemp’ if marijuana did not exist.