Commercial hemp is finally legal in Canada. This means that Canadian farmers can now grow and sell certified low-THC strains of cannabis, with a permit issued by the Ministry of Health. This is a major step forward for the entire cannabis movement, and is a cause for great celebration. Congratulations are due to the cannabis activists, hemp farmers and many others who have pushed to revive this ancient crop.
Yet even with this in mind, we still have a long way to go until cannabis is the free plant it ought to be. The fledgling Canadian hemp industry has some major governmental hurdles to leap before it will be able to take off and fly.
Delays and procrastination
Government bureaucrats will doubtless continue to screw up hemp farmers by delaying their permits until after the optimum planting date.
Hemp farmers told me that they often waited up to five days to receive responses to their calls to Health Canada. Important forms like “seed import permit applications” took weeks to obtain from reluctant bureaucrats.
Health Canada has also been very slow in processing the actual license applications. As of early May, many prospective farmers had been waiting over three weeks for final approval, even though Health Canada had promised them a response within one week.
Such delays are frustrating to the experimental hemp farmer, but they can be financially devastating to a commercial hemp operation. Farmers cannot import their seed until they have received all their permits, which creates further delays against the all-important planting date.
Fees and Taxes
One THC test is required per strain, per field. At a rate of $150 per test, the cost is not too prohibitive, although it can certainly add up for farmers experimenting with a dozen varieties in two-dozen different fields, as is the case in a number of instances.
Currently, the only federally sanctioned THC tester in Canada is Dr Metheral at the St Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. However, Metheral is expected to be getting some competition soon, as other lab technicians smell the profit in THC testing and scramble to get certified by the feds.
Most hemp farmers agree that administrative costs are going to rise dramatically over the next few years, as the bureaucrats squeeze their developing industry in what is known as “cost recovery”. There will be new fees and taxes put in place, so that farmers will have to pay to grow hemp, likely being charged a fee just to make a license application.
There will be additional fees surrounding the importation and certification of hemp seed as well. All production of seeds will be strictly regulated and limited.
Farmers hoping to produce hemp seed oil will be under even greater scrutiny, and they will also pay to have every batch of oil they produce carefully tested for THC content.
Origins of 0.3%
In the scramble to get cannabis strains certified, an overlooked point is the origin of the under 0.3% THC level requirement. Although usually referred to as the “European standard”, this figure was actually devised by Canadian government hemp researcher Ernie Small, who wrote a two-volume set called The Species Problem in Cannabis in the mid-seventies.
In these books, Small analyzes the biological and semantic nuances of what makes up a species. He describes how northern strains of cannabis have lower THC levels and more cannabidiol (CBD) than those from below the 30th parallel. He describes the two as the “fibre phenotype” and “drug phenotype” respectively.
It is important to note that Small did not find any natural point where there is a definite break between high and low THC strains. Rather, he explained that “the categories of plants are not sharply demarcated” and that “the widespread existence of intermediate strains would limit the usefulness of recognizing groups on the basis of cannabinoid ratios.”
Despite this, Small drew an “arbitrary” line on the continuum of cannabis types, and decided that 0.3% THC in a sifted batch of cannabis flowers was the difference between hemp and marijuana.
Small even acknowledged that “these absolute figures are only relevant to plants grown in a climate like Ottawa, and may not apply to plants grown in other climates,” yet his 0.3% standard is being touted across Canada and around the world as the official limit for legal hemp.
Even more interesting, Small clearly noted that, among the hundreds of strains he experimented with, “plants cultvated for fibre, oil and birdseed frequently had moderate or high amounts of THC.”
Thus the 0.3% THC standard divider of hemp from marijuana is not based upon which strains have the most agricultural benefit, nor is it based upon an analysis of what percentage of THC is necessary to achieve psychoactive effects. The almost world-wide 0.3% standard is based upon an arbitrary decision by a Canadian government scientist growing cannabis in Ontario.
Legal Hemp from Medical Pot
Canada’s industrial hemp industry would not be where it is today if cannabis was not also a medicinal herb. This is because the legal loophole under which all “experimental use” permits for cannabis cultivation were issued was originally put there to allow research into the medicinal benefits of cannabis (and opium).
The applicable clause of the the Narcotic Control Act stated that “no person shall cultivate opium poppies or marihuana without a license issued under the regulations.” This clause was not there for the benefit of would-be hemp farmers, but rather at the insistence of the 1920’s medical establishment, which wanted to be able to continue cultivation of these valuable plants for medicinal use.
Although no licenses were issued for many decades, the clause remained on the books, waiting for Joe Strobel and Geof Kime to take advantage of it in 1994, and successfully apply for Canada’s first license to cultivate cannabis for experimental purposes.
So while it’s true that hemp would probably never have been banned if it weren’t the same plant as marijuana, it’s also true that without the medicinal properties of marijuana, there would likely be no legal hemp in Canada today!