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Industrial hemp not really a demon weed
By Becky Somerville
Cannabis Sativa has been weaving itself into the fabric of Canadian mainstream society literally. In the form of industrial hemp, this commercial commodity is cultivating the path to an environmentally friendly, renewable resource which has gained even governmental support.
According to Neil Hansen-Trip, manager of the industrial hemp regulations program in the bureau of drug surveillance for Health Canada, hemp was banned in 1938 because of its association with tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Hansen-Trip explained under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, established in 1996, cannabis and its derivatives were prohibited, except for what was provided under regulation. This made industrial hemp legal under licence.
"Industrial hemp is defined in the industrial hemp regulations as being a plant that contains 0.3 per cent THC or less," he said. While the raw products of cannabis production are stalks and grain, the licensing requires that any cultivator must grow only low-THC hemp or face prosecution, he added.
Requests for licenses to grow the crop commercially have steadily increased since the final approval of the Industrial Hemp Regulations framework in 1998, Hansen-Trip said. "What the government is doing is providing the industry with a way to redevelop this crop and realize the potential economic benefit under controlled circumstances."
Sheila Macfie, a professor of plant sciences at Western who has been studying ways to optimize the agronomical conditions of hemp by looking at rates of fertilization, sewing density and time of harvest, agreed the plant has been gaining public support.
"For a while [hemp] was seen as a novelty item. Now it's becoming more integrated," Macfie explained. "The government has been very supportive and I think they see [commercial hemp] as a viable industry for Canada."
Macfie explained the benefits of hemp from an environmental standpoint. With respect to paper, hemp uses less land and yields more per unit area over the long term. What's more, while trees may take at least 25 years before they can be used, hemp can be harvested every year. Hemp does require fertilizer, Macfie added, but no other chemicals are used for its growth.
Pete Young, owner of the Organic Traveller, a cannabis culture shop in downtown London agreed with Macfie on the environmental benefits of industrial hemp, but expressed concern towards the Canadian government with respect to marijuana prohibition.
"The government doesn't really care too much about anything," Young said. "If they would have legalized cannabis a long time ago the money saved could pay off our national debt within a year."
While the Organic Traveller sells hemp products and contains an extensive library of cannabis-related information, Young said one of the main goals of the store is to educate. "Our focus is legalization or decriminalization through education," he said. "We've had a lot to do with changing the laws."
Young explained this generation of humans has been left with the responsibility to reverse the environmental damage already done to the earth a task feasible through the use of hemp. "It is possible that cannabis can literally heal this planet," Young added.
"They say there are 25,000 products [that can be made from hemp]," said Douglas Brown, director of West Hemp Canada, a co-operative organization which has been creating an infrastructure for the development of the hemp industry in Canada.
Brown explained the list includes everything from rope, food and personal lubricants to sugar, plastics and carpeting. "Anything that is made from a petrochemical product can also be made from hemp," he said.
West Hemp Canada, Brown said, is taking a pro-active approach to shaping Canadian policy, as well as implementing systems which work to legitimize the industry, via the media and education. Their efforts are done in large part to ensure the public realizes the benefits of hemp. "The government is doing as much as they can," Brown said. "We believe that farmers, processors and users of hemp can be part of an organization that can be mutually beneficial."
Geoff Kime, president of Hempline, a Delaware, Ontario-based producer and processor of hemp, said his company was the first Canadian company in modern times to grow hemp with a licence. "We broke the prohibition on hemp-growing," he said.
Kime said the main reason people are interested in hemp is due to the fact it produces high quality, durable products which resist rotting, have high tensile strength and do not break down easily.
"Hemp is being perceived as an environmentally friendly commodity," Kime said. "All levels of government really, truly have taken a leadership role in making this happen."