Push-starting an industry
In January ’98, Canadian hemp industry “stakeholders” (advocates, farmers, processors and entrepreneurs) met with agents of the federal Health Minister, in Ottawa, to hammer out a final version of the proposed industrial hemp regulations. This assembly of unlikely allies were anxious to create, by debate and consensus, a set of industrial hemp game rules that everyone could live with. The plan had to provide access to the free market for the farmer and processor while assuring neighbour nations that Canadian hemp was being grown in a fully accountable, responsible way.
By February, pressure was mounting from the Canadian Senate for the Health Minister’s Office to fast track the hemp agenda in time for spring planting. Senator Lorna Milne chastised the Feds for slacking off, stopwatch in hand. The Health Minister’s well-informed “Hemp Project Team” went into overdrive to create adequate regulations, and installed an office to issue permits and licenses to eligible Canadian farmers and processors. Commercial applicants were given highest priority.
Experimental licenses were granted to first-time Canadian hemp farmers, and a four hectare minimum was established to keep the hippie science-project sector off the track.
Following proper legislative procedure, modern Canadian industrial hemp regulations were passed into law. It is now possible for a Canadian hemp industry to advance without the obtuse restrictions of blanket prohibition. Canada, by default, becomes the sole hemp producing nation in the Americas. This was accomplished in a peaceful democratic way without a lot of fuss, and for this we are grateful, amen.
Cannabis remains a controlled substance, but important distinctions between industrial hemp and marijuana are clearly spelled out in Canadian law. The Health Minister retains exclusive power to approve any cannabis cultivation in the Dominion of Canada.
The federal government will continue to monitor successive seasons of hemp cultivation, and will enforce these new laws and award severe punishments to any cannabis non-compliance activity.
In other words, hemp is carefully watched and tested during every phase of production ? while marijuana remains strictly forbidden. There were no gestures of transferring the hemp project from the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs to the Department of Agriculture anytime soon.
One big learning curve
In March, at a Holiday Inn in Tilsenburg, Ontario, not far from where Canada’s first modern hemp was planted under license in 1994, federal Health Minister Alan Rock announced that new hemp regulations were in place as advertised, and his agents would start processing requests for hemp licenses, first thing Monday morning.
Applications to grow hemp flooded Ottawa, many casually prepared. Small clerical errors are grounds for send-backs and revision, snarling up the approval process, jeopardizing all plans for early sowing. The opening season for commercial hemp in Canada was one big learning curve for everybody. Yet despite the occasional dry heave over the rail as the engines of state fired up, the launch of Industrial Hemp’s maiden voyage was deemed a success by all but the most unrepentant prohibitionists.
Canadian hemp farmers who received their permits late in the season had to choose between risking the short season that remained or cutting their losses and growing some other crop instead. Those who gambled on late-sown hemp managed to harvest good crops in spite of the delays. Fortune favours the brave.
About 2400 hectares of commercial hemp for both fibre and seed was sown under license in nine provinces across Canada in 1998. Ontario was tops with 1163 hectares, Manitoba grew 606 hectares for second place. Land was sown with hemp for the first time in the Maritimes, Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Experimental crops of hemp operated by curious first time-farmers added an additional 107 hectares.
Three major players
Major talents emerged in the new commercial hemp season. Three promising Canadian players have attracted committed financing for spacious new primary processing factories near new centres of production. They are in the for the long haul.
Kenex and Hempline remain the leading hemp private enterprise cultivators as the puck drops for Canadian hemp in South Western Ontario. Consolidated Growers and Processors are skating into the wind as the main hemp action figures in Western Canada.
Hempline, pioneer cultivators of industrial strength cannabis in Ontario, grew 500 acres of licensed hemp in the summer of 1998, contracting 20 regional London farmers to grow on their behalf. Hempline continues to develop innovative processing machinery to transform raw hemp stalks into loom ready fibre for US carpet and upholstery clients. Buyers are eager to secure this natural fibre with attitude for next millenium manufacturers of fully recyclable furnishings.
Kenex, the most ambitious commercial hemp permit holder in Southern Ontario, took a front row seat for the commercial hemp blast-off. They buckled-up with fully prepared, detailed expansion plans for their hemp operations north of Windsor ? upwind from Detroit. Plans are being laid right now to utilize Kenex hemp in the assembly of Cadillac car door panels for the 2002 production line. Cadillac stands for luxury, but also innovation, as they were the first carmaker to offer seat belts, air bags and anti-lock brakes as standard features. The entire North American automotive industry follows what the Cadillac design team introduces at the top.
In the meantime, Kenex engineers are also developing a line of culinary oleo hemp seed offerings, from cold pressed edible oils to dehulled seed meal, which will soon be available to the birds of secondary industry, hovering over the hemp seed harvest, waiting to transform this newly available, fresh homegrown hemp into a wide assortment of hempfood items for millions of nibblers.
Kenex entered into initial hemp spinning trials in 1998 in co-operation with an Ontario cordage factory, while at the same time entering into discussions with a Parisian hemp flax mill to create the first legally cultivated New World grown hemp cloth.
Manitoba saw some serious commercial hemp action in 1998 as Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP) contracted out dozens of farmers to grow hemp on their behalf. Plans for a processing factory at Portage la Prairie are underway and a CGP stock offering to finance operations have appeared on mid-west American commodities exchanges. Manitoba is positioned at continental-central and is suitable for both fibre and seed production. Hemp was grown at Portage la Prairie well into the 1930s, until prohibition closed the mills.
Body Shop Canefa
New developments in hemp seed breeding saw action in Saskatchewan, as seed breeders introduced an improved oleo hempseed variety, “Canefa” developed during experimental years. Canefa develops over 10% GLA content in the seed oil ? more than three times higher levels of this valuable macro-nutrient than European varieties. The Canefa team is seeking registration of this first homegrown hemp hybrid and will be in a position to offer it to other Canadian hemp growers before the year 2000.
This new Canefa seed has caught the attention of the Body Shop, who promptly placed orders for this premium Canadian hemp oil as soon as quantities become available. Body Shop launched their hemp collection internationally over the summer with great success ? but with incomplete THC reporting on their products, which alarmed a few European governments and Health Canada as well.
Science went to bat for fashion as drug content and profile objections were eventually resolved. A lot was at stake, and cannabis was travelling around the world without a commercial passport. Body Shop will soon be this planet’s largest manufacturer of high-end hemp soap and other hempen personal care products.
Quebec, the Maritimes & BC
Quebec was also a new contender for commercial hemp in 1998, and the return of this traditional crop was welcomed by the provincial government, commercial hemp farmers and new experimental growers. Licenses were issued to individual farmers and co-operative ventures producing several different varieties of fibre and seed. Favourable weather in Quebec all summer produced fine early crops as the rest of the continent baked under a cruel heat wave.
Quebec industry is taking note of the arrival of hassle-free hemp and are pleased with the level of commitment that the new Quebec hemp producers are displaying. There is talk of a fine paper mill using Quebec-grown hemp next year. A leading Quebec textile manufacturer is eager to spin Quebec hemp into loom weaveable thread as soon as possible.
Quebec lost her entire “Disco Denim” industry in the 80’s when the Canadian textile sector surrendered to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which centralized cotton clothing manufacturing in the southern USA. Quebec is eager to conquer style once again. They will have no resistance as they side-step past the cotton culture to be the first and best source delivering chanvre/hemp to mainstream North America.
Hemp was grown in the maritime provinces on the Atlantic and in British Columbia on the Pacific in 1998. These were smaller hemp plots, operating under experimental licenses but successful none the less. East-coast grown hemp in earlier times was prized by the British navy, who considered it to be the finest marine hemp in the world, purer and stronger than even the best Russian hemp.
Mice, bears and teenagers
The advances during the initial commercial hemp year were not without their share of misfortune far and beyond delays in start-up. Reports of unauthorized harvesting made everyone nervous. The opportunity to snatch a few glistening trophy buds, (guaranteed euphorically inert) seems to have attracted misguided youths to some fields after normal hours of business.
Police are satisfied that this tribal welcome ritual is an isolated response, and it does not seem to pose a serious threat to the integrity of the industry. Some hemp snatching arrests were made, but it hardly suggests a crime wave.
In Quebec, youthful trespassers in the hempfields were ordered to work as parking lot attendants for the big Hemp Field Day, where they learned first-hand how their careless midnight snipping jeopardized the success of the hemp industry that was taking shape across the road.
Youths and others described as “beach dwellers” descended upon certain BC hemp farms to such an extent that the licensed farmer decided to plough the remainder of his hemp under, rather than face the mountain of forensic paperwork Health Canada requires to track any unauthorized removal of licensed cannabis from the field.
Speculations that field mice may consume some of the hemp seed heads was no comfort when it was reported that West coast Grizzly bears had discovered hemp seed ripening in the fields. Obviously, there is something very good in these seeds to charm 2000 pound mammals out of the woods.
1999 and beyond
The first commercial year for hemp in Canada began with administrative delays, endured severe weather conditions, and ended up with two and four legged pests interfering with the harvest. In spite of these difficulties, industrial hemp attracted many new supporters and made major credibility gains in the raw materials marketplace. This success has inspired many other Canadian farmers to grow hemp in 1999 and beyond.
There will be lots of good seed available for anyone who is eligible to grow it. It is a curious thing to witness a world-class natural resource industry come into being. The love-child of industrial desire and regulatory suspicion has been born and will grow and prosper in the years to come.
Health Canada promised that a full review of the hemp regulations is due at the end of 1999. Perhaps some of the more severe reporting and testing requirements will be relaxed and less paranoid containment scenarios can take their place. Still, it is a miracle that hemp arrived into formal reality in Canada without all the fuss that seems to follow the cannabis crop elsewhere on the planet.
When everything is said and done, it was a good thing that hemp came to Canada at this time of great change for the world’s third largest nation. Taking the lead in something other than winter sports is a good sign that we are growing up as a people. As Canadians growing hemp strike out on their own, starting up without any of the generous cash subsidies that European hemp farmers can count on, we might slowly realize that, starting with hemp, we are capable of carving out our own destiny on this wealthy continent we share with eagles.
? Hempline: 632 #1 Elizabeth Street, London, Ontario, N5W 2S8; tel (519) 434-3684; email [email protected]; website www.hempline.com
? Kenex: Kenex Ltd, RR #1, Pain Court, Ontario, N0P 1Z0; email [email protected]; website www.kenex.com
? CGP: 205-93 Lombard Ave,Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3B 3B1; tel: (204) 957-7968; email [email protected]; website www.congrowpro.com
? Health Canada Hemp Licenses: tel (613) 954-6524; fax (613) 941-5360; email [email protected]; website www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hpb-dgps/therapeut/htmleng/hemp.html