Hunting in Darkest Ottawa
Which the good doctor visits our nation’s capitol to decide just how we’re
going to legalize hemp in Canada.
By Dr Alexander Sumach
??? Last November, a handful of
steadfast Canadian hempsters were invited by Health Canada to meet in a
climate of “transparency” with knowledgeable government personnel, in order
to draft an initial Hemp Regulatory Agreement. Two days of intense hemp
talks followed in Ottawa on March 17-18 of this year.
A sprinkling of autonomous regional hemp activists,
people from the newly formed Canadian Industrial Hemp Council (CIHC), experienced
hemp farmers, crop agronomists, glib seed growers and anxious hemp entrepreneurs
alike were all in attendance.
??? I was invited pretty much at
the last minute, and caught a lift from Montreal to Ottawa with Larry DuPrey
and Jerzy Przytyk of the CIHC. We managed to hang around with many of the
hemp ambassadors between rounds at the government sweat lodge, and learned
how the federal machinery operates.
A Two-Headed Trojan Horse
??? The cannabis plant is
a gift from God say some, and only a blockhead would deny that it’s worth
a pretty penny. You can even weave a dandy noose from its fibres to hang
the dope fiends at the other end of the bargain. In spite of what you might
otherwise expect, the law will continue to view cannabis as a two-headed
Trojan horse. The fact that one man’s party is another man’s poison will
??? There’s jaw wagging
in the citadels of Ottawa, the nation’s capitol, about granting parole
for unrepentant hemp. There’s noise about letting hemp out of lockup and
putting it to work, under proper supervision. Even the feds realize that
they will soon have to hand out more than the occasional season’s pass
to scattered hemp farmers.
??? What was once the privilege
of government researchers is now the dream of the private sector, who want
to grow and process this promising “new” crop to develop an industry of
their own making. They are legion, and their flood of requests to obtain
permission to grow low THC hemp is like airbags going off every day in
the offices of Health Canada.
??? Responding to this
phenomenon is a headache for the Drug Surveillance Branch, which is responsible
for maintaining order in the hemp fields. Their workload concerns dangerous
drugs; spooky poisons, body counts, weasel hunting in the sewers of society.
They are not exactly overjoyed to monitor the activities of tractor jockeys
and underwear manufacturers who have nothing to do with drugs and the laws
which forbid certain drugs from circulating.
Billion Dollar Babysitters
??? However, news that industrial
hemp might become a billion dollar baby has reached the desks of the policy
czars in Ottawa. The aromatherapy of fresh revenues has awoken the bosses
from their dreams of snuffing out the weed entirely. Now they are busy
looking into dividing hemp from marijuana once and for all. Yet they are
reluctant to give the green light to hemp, and plan to keep hemp on a short
leash until further notice. It’s a start, but it’s hardly the gesture farmers
and processors are willing to accept as remedy for their industry.
The bean counters in the Federal Treasury
Department have seen the potential of Industrial Hemp, and noted that Europe
is undertaking a vigorous modern hemp industry that is a sharp contrast
to the American folly of continuing to wage war on the weed. Treasury has
sent directives to Health Canada to measure and weigh the costs and benefits
of allowing a full-fledged industrial hemp industry to take shape across
The feds are a little surprised that hemp
blew onto the fast track on its own agenda, in spite of all resistance
from their programs to frustrate the return of this long-shot fantasy crop
to the Canadian farm menu. Now the feds are starting to sing along with
the pro-hemp choir, and are eager to run the show as choir masters. They
are watching for an opportunity to set the play list, decorate the stage
and collect the tickets at the door.
To do this, the feds must first rescue
hemp from underneath the blanket prohibition of the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act, the new comprehensive drug law that may yet offer an honourable
path for hemp to enter into the industrial mainstream and pump some tax
Siamese Twins Separated in Court
??? Phase one of the federal
response to hemp was the creation of a “Hemp Project” as a side-order salad
within the Health Canada cafeteria. Here, it is hoped, the camel will pass
through the eye of the needle, and emerge tamed and ready to carry a safe
cargo for her new masters waiting on the other side. Hemp will soon be
resaddled with legislative seatbelts and permits, and assigned a new speed
limit with close scrutiny over diversion of the drug.
??? THC, the original sin
of cannabis, is regarded as bad news, no matter how tiny the amount. No
compromise in this subject is likely to be entertained for quite some time,
??? Even government itself
is changing gears to get ready to act as trail masters for the hemp rodeo.
Drug Surveillance is hoping to avoid the office workload of regulating
industrial hemp, but insist on their privilege to intervene to ensure the
health and safety of Canadians. In truth, their mandate should be no more
invasive than the sanitation department walking into restaurant kitchens
unannounced to make sure the daily special is what it really presents itself
??? Enter Ms Jean Peart,
appointed manager of the government hemp project. Her precise speech outlining
a vague acceptance of federal policy at the Commercial Hemp Symposium in
Vancouver last February was received with a certain doubt by the audience
of Canadian and international hemp hopefuls, who had gathered by the score
to catch an eyeful of hempen weather forecasts for the coming season. “We
want it!” chirped Peart, a no-nonsense Ottawa civil service hemp hawk,
working within the Department of Health, Drug
??? Her carefully scripted
speech merely hinted that the feds are sniffing around the needle, watching
for camels. No doubt a federal hemp policy turn-around has been in the
works for some time. The general public has clearly come to recognize hemp
as entirely different from marijuana, and remains curious about the hempen
industries that have sprung up from the ashes of the drug war.
??? Amazingly, regular
citizens had managed to distinguish hemp from drugs without any input or
propaganda from the government. Popular culture had managed to fence off
hemp from drugs all by itself, and done a splendid job of presenting hemp
as an innocuous crop that might benefit the nation and the planet.
Regarding the relationship between hemp
and marijuana, the Canadian government position seems to be “Just Don’t
Say It” It’s a configuration of sharp policy contrasts, an attempt to mop
up after a losing battle and still retain the winning hand at the hemp
License in the Real World
??? The government grab
will eventually take hemp beyond rhetoric and deliver it to revenue-generating
status. The real world of legal hemp promises to be awash in permits, compliance
and reporting of the hemp harvest to a council of cannaphobes who will
continue to regulate the industry as if THC was the original sin.
The day a Canadian adult can apply for
and receive the privilege of a hemp growing permit is the day real progress
can be measured. Here’s hoping obtaining a hemp permit will be no more
difficult or expensive than securing a driver’s licence or a passport.
??? The feds would like
the permit process to be streamlined, as much as the hemp farmers want
the same sort of thawing out of antique compliance stipulations so they
can get on with their business of growing it.
There are murmurs of regulating hemp along
the lines of registration of firearms and the licensing of pharmacists,
and this may be the only option that will be seriously considered. Cruise
the forests with a heater, dispense some powerful drugs, but don’t stray
from the agreement or you will face some nasty retribution. So it’s registration
for hemp farmers – apply and comply. Fair enough, let the games begin!
??? Gentlemen, start your
tractors! It’s the Patriots vs the Traitors, and it’s anybody’s guess as
to who is who at this critical point.
??? Apparently, everybody
is going broke waiting. Poverty, the great equalizer; Desire, the mother
of innovation; and Opportunity, the signal for advance; are whistling like
a trio of tea kettles at full boil.
A New Way of Looking at Hemp
??? Government and their
unlikely allies from the pro-hemp hinterland are gathering to smoke the
peace pipe, metaphorically speaking, and come to some sort of arrangement
that will provide for the industry’s immediate concerns without compromising
agenda priorities which ensure the health and safety of all Canadians.
The new approach from government is “working
together” – which I recognize as the battlecry of those without money.
“A new way of looking at hemp” is international office lingo to mask a
completely confused perspective with a twist of opportunity implied. However,
it is nevertheless a welcome gesture from our civil servants that they
too are trapped in a legal cul-de-sac and are running out of gas.
??? The Canadian government
is to be applauded for waving the white flag and calling for a peace treaty
before push comes to shove. All eyes are on this new way of looking at
hemp. Maybe Canada will be able to refloat itself after being scuttled
on the shoals of public opinion concerning industrial hemp. Maybe now there
will be some honourable way out of the labyrinth of fossilized policy and
into the jet stream of accommodation for the weed of wonder.
Governing the Forbidden
??? Governing the forbidden
cannot be an easy task. In order to free up hemp from legislative bondage,
a shakedown of several interconnected government departments will be necessary.
Health, Justice, Industry, Agriculture and all their subsidiary agencies
will have to have their agendas sent to the cleaners, and brought back
fresh and pressed.
??? The feds are busy right
now drafting out a mechanism of procedure that will hopefully permit hemp
to advance in Canada beyond a few scattered test plots and into full commercial
scale. They’re in no hurry.
Despite the fact that hemp is not marijuana,
it is still a candidate for legislated chemistry. THC, the sand in the
??? Even though low-THC
hemp is a very different creature from super-potent illicit marijuana,
it will continue to be monitored to thwart criminal diversion. Fat chance
of that really happening. Fibre hemp exhibits a mere trace of THC, and
although oilseed hemp admittedly develops somewhat higher THC levels at
maturity, neither hemp varieties are suited for diversion.
??? As potent marijuana
is the choice of the illicit market, and high THC varieties are easily
available and easily distinguishable from hemp, why would any knucklehead
want to bother with hemp as a base material for diversion? Considering
the bulk and low concentration of THC in hemp, and high contamination rates
by abundant non-active cannabinoids tightly bonded within the chemical
makeup of the hemp plant, how could hemp be regarded as a drug? Why would
anyone care to divert or convert into what would soon be a black market
bankruptcy if they did?
??? Here’s hoping that
the traffic jam can be cleared out, and the road to plenty opened up before
this climate of cannabis glasnost is compromised by storms of contention
that may push the hemp agenda back into the parking lot.
First Period, No Score
??? Jean Peart’s slide show
in Vancouver and tough stance regarding government policy is only the first
round. She concluded her presentation with an offer to listen to suggestions
on how some sort of workable regulatory framework might shape up in the
??? When Peart predicted
a grueling review process, and the necessity of knitting an airtight policy
of containment and accountability before there would be any easing up of
the hemp licensing process, everyone in the audience was a little shaken,
to say the least. Canadians, and the western division in particular, had
hoped for an amnesty for hemp, and were a bit surprised that it would take
time and effort to deliver hemp to the marketplace.
??? This ain’t no party,
this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around – and you better believe
The Highway to Hemp
??? The silver lining within
the dark cloud of reluctance was the hemp regulation workshop Health Canada
promised to host in Ottawa in the month of March. Here, government officials
and what they call “stakeholders” in the hemp debate would be invited to
meet for two days of intense opinion exchanges. These would hopefully bring
in ideas from the outside world to be used as fuel for the feds to hammer
into a comprehensive set of regulations to govern the rapidly emerging
??? Ottawa would clearly
not be playing footsie with the psychedelically-hearted hemp honchos, or
roll over in her commitment to international treaties concerning drugs.
Here is the highway to hemp, and the road leads to both American and European
policy camps. The American style is to nix hemp because it may be marijuana
in disguise. The Europeans, who are actually growing hemp, are making some
shrewd choices to allow the crop to show what it really can do on the modern
??? The Europeans have
managed to separate hemp from marijuana without a lot of fuss. They have
laws to spank bad hemp farmers who don’t play along, but so far there have
been no reports of THC diversion in European hemp operations. They’re starting
to make money and develop markets for their hemp, and no harm has come
of their curious enterprise within their national boundaries.
Our American Cousins
??? At the other, more fragrant
end of the stick, our American cousins continue to deliberately confuse
the obviously great differences between hemp and drugs. TV America still
plays dumb, while knowing better. Perhaps the voice of commerce there is
not ready to challenge the consumer value index regarding marijuana that
has been so carefully orchestrated to reject any surrender to the narcobuckaneers
no matter what the facts may be.
??? America has never gone
for metric or bilingual Spanish. Hemp to the Americans is harder than interplanetary
travel, and what they can’t win at they tend to disallow to others. Fair
was way back there. In Canada however, we’re not talking felony anymore
when we talk hemp, we’re talking destiny. We know the difference between
hemp and marijuana and are prepared to demonstrate our hard-won knowledge
on the world market.
??? In ten years most of
the syntax bloopers will have been long gone, and the hectares of hemp
will be reaching for the sky. Only certified low THC strains of hemp will
be grown, and only registered permit holders will be cultivating hemp.
??? The transition to the
smooth running of a fully responsible, entirely accountable hemp industry
will take time. Some adjustment here and there by everyone involved in
the inspection process, to ensure compliance to reasonable regulations,
will likely be a task all hemp stakeholders will be living with.
In reality, there is no THC diversion
potential with certified hemp varieties, and this opens up a very important
concern to debate at the genesis of the Canadian hemp industry: does government
aspire to control the hemp plant or the THC molecule?
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
??? Hemp breeding aims at
developing the lowest possible levels of THC in the plant as can be practically
attained. David Watson, director of the International Hemp Association,
while presenting his perspective at the Vancouver Hemp Symposium, stated
that “THC is not a critical factor in the creation of improved strains
of industrial hemp.” In other words, hemp exhibiting ultra-low THC levels
??? How will future governments
justify such strict controls over hemp if it can be demonstrated that hemp
cultivars have become stabilized, and that THC is no longer a point of
contention? The hemp of 1997 will not be the hemp growing in Canada in
2017, and possibly undeserving of such constraints that no other natural
resource material industry is obliged to comply with.
Zero Point Trois
??? Federal eagerness to
establish a fixed THC threshold for industrial hemp may prove to be a millstone
around Ottawa’s neck if Watson’s knowledgeable prediction of ultra-low
THC hemp pans out. The 0.3% THC ceiling is the arbitrary numeral Health
Canada is assigning as the maximum concentration they hope to see passed
??? The 0.3% figure is
what French breeders are able to achieve in Europe – and so the Europeans
peg their hemp to what they can achieve in the field. Yet that’s another
continent altogether. Hemp has not been grown on a scale or over a sufficient
span of time in Canada for anybody to say with certainty that this is what
the climate and soil of Canada will induce with our homegrown harvest of
fibre and oil seed. Could be even lower, might be somewhat higher – but
definitely way below THC levels that would suggest that drugs are being
manufactured within hemp tissue.
??? As the knowledge of
THC development in cannabis varieties is imperfectly understood, and research
has been abandoned for 20 years into the effects of THC on human beings,
it is simply not a good idea to voodoo up a number that hemp must pass
beneath at this point in proceedings. Much preferred is the concept of
“acceptable levels of THC” set by Health Canada, with a trespass point
Black Tie Optional
??? The Hemp Regulations
Workshop held in Ottawa in March of ?97 was by invitation only. The
wackos and hotheads were carefully weeded out, and a short list of “at
large” hempster stakeholders was drawn up by our hosts, the Bureau of Drug
??? It was made clear at
the very beginning of the proceedings that we had gathered to talk hemp
– to cover their behinds, as commercial licensing was due for some sort
of action plan.
It was also made very clear that this
was not a semi-formal parlez-vous pot to legalize marijuana, scuffle over
the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or get any bright ideas of transferring
final authority governing hemp from Health Canada to the Department of
??? We were reminded, however
nicely, that what would transpire over the next few days would not necessarily
manifest into actuality, and suggestions would only be taken if they could
be spot welded onto an agenda that certainly seemed to be in place well
before the show began.
The Hemp Bureaucrats
??? The bulk of the attendees
were representatives from departments within the government which will
have some doing or other with hemp. Here, people from Law Enforcement,
Agriculture and Health were summoned from their office desks to squeeze
off a few rounds of policy for all to behold and take note. It was obvious
that nobody wanted to take on the extra duties of hemp patrol, and were
anxious to have everybody else deal with it.
??? During coffee break,
I learned from a Health Canada toxicologist that one THC test costs $150,
and takes all day to get a reading. His equipment in Health Canada is way
too sensitive to evaluate the low flight paths of THC in hemp. His toys
are designed to betray marijuana – from drug seizures and the tissues of
autopsy subjects. He carried a briefcase with a skull and crossbones decal
on the front, and he wasn’t playing around.
A charismatic woman from Justice noted
that “the old Narcotic Control Act would not fly if it was presented today.”
Then she just giggled and went over to the sandwich table.
What, Me Worry?
??? The RCMP want nothing
to do with hemp it seems. They know it’s nothing to worry over, and hope
that Health Canada takes over. The RCMP allow that if they receive any
reports of hemp diversion, they will investigate. If Health Canada has
any suspicions, the Mounties will follow up. However, the RCMP is more
interested in going after the proceeds of crime “to recoup costs of enforcement”
than in chasing sticks like a dog.
??? Health Canada is not
exactly anxious to impact itself on hemp, and would prefer to let the seed
grower take any heat. It is, after all, the genetic potential of any given
sample of hemp seed that is the critical factor in drug/non-drug policy.
??? Agriculture Canada
will be the main mover in getting hemp airborne, but it will still be Health
Canada that will have the final say as to who receives a permit to grow
hemp. Agriculture Canada will hover over the seed question and has the
honour of maintaining records of registration. Woopee! Office procedures
in two languages!
??? The lady from Justice
pokes her head in the door to remind everyone that “Government is compelled
to respond to data they collect” – so they would like to keep that down
to a minimum. She mentions that hemp sampling is not mandatory from either
Health or Justice, and so please just ask for samples from permit holders.
Nevertheless, Health writes down “required hemp sample testing”, and would
like the hemp farmer to submit a sample and pay for analysis at private
laboratories, thus keeping their desks tidy.
??? Other chats suggested
the farmer could buy and store hemp seed without a licence, and would only
require a licence to grow. Once the farmer declares the integrity of the
hemp variety he/she plans to sow, Health Canada will assign the necessary
??? The workshop itself
was a policy swordfight between governmental departments, each hoping to
defend neutrality and avoid taking on any extra work. Their passion was
in overdrive to avoid hemp, to have as little to do with it as possible.
Each sweat drop was the manifestation of inner reluctance… the absolute
reverse of how pro-hemp congregations react to the same stimulus.
??? To keep hemp away from
a backyard business scale, it was proposed that three hectares be the absolute
minimum size operation that will be considered for licensing. Sure, why
the heck not? Next!
Spin Doctor Bruce
??? By far, the most interesting
person at the workshop was Dr Bruce Rowsell, director of the Bureau of
Drug Surveillance. He called the shots. Jean Peart, so “take charge” in
Vancouver, was a faithful and ambitious auxiliary of Dr Rowsell, and spun
the proceedings knowing his ever-present eye was fixed upon her.
??? Dr Rowsell is not a
goof. He’s sharp, informed, and deaf to anything but well presented conjectures.
He took copious notes and said very little. Though courteous, he was not
a politician beaming good vibes. He wasn’t selling anything, and he didn’t
appear to be buying very much either. He leaves his opinions at home, and
brings a steely conviction to work everyday.
??? I later learned that
Rowsell had personally escorted a potential candidate out of the building
and onto the street earlier that morning, because he felt that he may be
a troublemaker. He then welcomed us into the conference area as if he did
this sort of thing all the time. The fact is he does do this sort of thing
all the time, and he knows where the lines are drawn in the sand. Comply
with good order, you get coffee in a china cup. Fail to comply and you’re
toast. That’s not a bad way to go with growing hemp either. You play, you
stay – you stray, no way.
Stairway to Heaven
??? Two days later, we shuffled
out of the citadel to see the sun go down over the stone fortresses in
downtown Ottawa. This was not a wedding we had just left, nor was it an
execution. Instead, it was a bit of a surprise to witness and contribute
to a process of reality wrestling to dust off hemp, blow away the cobwebs
of narrow expectation and play a few riffs with the Federal Symphony Policy
Orchestra. There was a fixed script, and no missing your cue.
??? This was hardball,
pay attention and don’t slack off. This was the team playing in a practice
game. The big game is coming up – where Canada will be in the world play-offs.
In our bid to play fair and true with hemp, can victory be so far away?
Stay tuned, for as soon as Health Canada gets a grip on hemp they will
pass their framework to the lawyers at the Department of Justice, who will
draft legislation. From there, the hemp package will be published in “The
Canada Gazette” and then be introduced to the House of Commons for passage
into law. That’s that!
??? It’s happening as you
read this page. Don’t say you weren’t invited to get involved. If you won’t
make the distinction between hemp and marijuana, Dr Rowsell, or one of
his staff, will be glad to fix your opinion. They know the difference.
For More Info
Contact Jean Peart at (613) 954-6524;
fax (613) 952-7738; email [email protected]
Visit the Health Canada hemp web page