Hemp Farming in Canada

By Chris Blank

Cannabis sativa- Hemp

"Hemp is of first necessity....to the wealth and protection of the country." Thomas Jefferson (1791)

"Make the most of the hemp seed and sow it everywhere." George Washington (1794)

During a Cannabis Canada interview, appearing in the June 5, 1997 issue, Geof Kime (one of the owners of the Hempline company, which is a commercial producer of hemp) commented that:

"Hemp is about business and the environment, marijuana is a moral question about the government's control of what drugs people consume. These two questions with nothing in common but the shape of the leaf, and we have to separate the issues. "
It appears Canada has indeed finally seperated these issues. As of March 1, 1998 farmers could officially apply for licenses to grow and process hemp.

The wonder of hemp is that it is a crop that does not require heavy pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides because the hemp's own THC acts as a natural repellant to insects. In an age when cancer rates are attrocious and people are constantly exposed to noxious chemicals, the idea of a crop which is multi-purpose, yet environment and human friendly, is encouraging.

One problem faced in hemp farming is that the crop does not like the ground being too wet. But with proper drainage, this minor problem should be overcome. Another problem, though, is with equipment. Regular farming equipment has proven inadequate when dealing with the crop, so in order to maximize crop yields the machinery industry will have to take greater interest. In Europe there are specialized machines, but in Canada no such technology exists.

There is a limit of 0.3% THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol) content (Health Canada determined this level to not have psychoactive qualities), measured from the top third of the plant (the top

"Ignorance confuses hemp with marijuana, even though you'd need a joint the size of a telegraph pole to get any kind of buzz"
                    Anita Roddick
15cm of the plant contains the most concentrated THC levels). However, the stalk and seeds do not have any THC content and are the primary portion used in production of textiles and foods. As well, hemp is grown tightly together to maximize stalk growth, unlike its sister plant marijuana which is grown in wide open areas to maximize leaf growth and encourage higher THC levels. Marijuana typically has THC levels between 5% to 20%, which means that industrial hemp simply IS NOT marijuana and COULD NOT be utilized for its psychoactive qualities. If someone bothered to try and grow marijuana in with their hemp plants, the cross-pollination of the two would produce a lower THC strain of marijuana, not a higher THC strain of hemp.

I think The Body Shop's founder Anita Roddick came up with the best quote: "Ignorance confuses hemp with marijuana, even though you'd need a joint the size of a telegraph pole to get any kind of buzz". Adam Nicolson of the The Sunday Telegraph (London), July 23, 1995 p.12, jokes that "Perhaps there might be a market in the cannabis equivalent of alcohol-free lager or decaffeinated coffee."

Hemp's History

For more than 12,000 years hemp has been grown. It was the Chinese who first cultivated hemp for the production of hempen cloth. Hundreds of years later it spread around to areas such as India, and later spread to Europe and then to South and North America.*

As early as 1801, the Lieutenant Governor of the province of Upper Canada, on behalf of the King of England, distributed hemp seed free to Canadian farmers. The government offered to pay premiums and bounties to the "deserving cultivators and exporters of hemp in the Province." As a result hemp became an important Canadian cash crop. The London, Ontario region was especially well suited to the cultivation of hemp. At its peak, several thousand acres of hemp were grown in Western Ontario alone.
Commercial Hemp Cultivation in Canada: "An Economic Justification"
by David Marcus

Hemp was banned under the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act in 1938 due to the fear of THC in the plant. It saw a short revival due to World War II, but was quickly banned again afterwards. In 1942 the U.S. Department of Agriculture even put out an propaganda film for farmers entitled "Hemp for Victory". As Colorado State Senator Lloyd Casey said in 1996, "Does it take a World War to make hemp legal?"

Hemp has been grown on an experimental basis for scientific purposes under supervision of Health Canada since 1961
Hemp has been grown on an experimental basis for scientific purposes under supervision of Health Canada since 1961, but it wasn't possible to grow as a whole crop because the growing regulations weren't set yet. Crop growing trials have been conducted in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. However, as mentioned, it is only this year that industrial hemp is being cultivated- the first time since 1938. Finally, people like Canada's Health Minister Allan Rock, realize and support the potential for both jobs and the environment that industrial hemp can provide.

There are more than 25 countries that cultivate industrial hemp, with China and Poland, for example, never having outlawed it. The Hemp Industries Association have a hempfacts page which goes over how various countries are currently producing and utilizing hemp.

Uses for hemp include everything from textiles to making hemp cheese (reputedly easier to digest and almost as nutritious as soy) as well as hemp chocolate (dairy free). The stalk is typically used for textiles, pulp and paper, and building materials (insulation, etc) while the seeds are used for everything from foods to cosmetics to paint to beer brewing. The Body Shop has even started a line of products using hemp seed oil. As well, interest has been raised by the auto industry, as hemp could provide cheap durable parts for some aspects of production; something which the German company BMW has already done in its 5 Series.

As to why it fell out of favour in North America in the 1930's? One suggestion has it that the anti-hemp campaign was led by William Randolph Hearst (the real "Citizen Kane"), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the DuPont corporation (it feared hemp could compete with nylon manufacturing). Another suggested possibility is it was due to the film "Reefer Madness" that people became terrified of the plant, and what they saw as its potential to destroy the lives of their children after only one puff of marijuana.

Understandably, there is a certain amount of fear that hemp growers will use this license to try and grow marijuana. However, this is improbable since the government can easily keep track of anyone who has a license to grow. And if they don't have a license to grow you can simply bust them.

And the environment?

According to Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, the world demand for paper has doubled in the past 20 years and is expected to double again by the year 2010. This combined with increasing restrictions on logging produces a gap that hemp can fill. Also, hemp paper can be recylcled more times than wood based paper products.

The results of hemp farming seem only positive in terms of environmental impact. Here are the results found in a study by Sara K. Francis, for her Masters in Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University. She "sent surveys to as many hemp farmers as possible around the world. In the end, 14 were returned. The results confirmed that:

This is in great contrast to the fact that the percentage of worldwide insecticides used on cotton production is 25% (stat. from Ecolution.)

The clear, obvious strengths of commercial hemp promise a positive future for the growth, cultivation, and production of hemp and hemp products in Canada. The only negative aspects are ones relating to pesticide producers and other manufacturers whose product sales will be damaged by the hemp revival.


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*A more thorough historical perspective is available in the "YEARBOOK OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE--1913, pages 283-346, available from the North American Industrial Hemp Council, Inc..