Hemp industry asks feds for deregulation

Not all agree | Some growers argue regulation is still necessary but the government should consider modifying its rules

Canada’s rules and regulations for growing hemp are burdensome, tedious and in need of revision, says Chris Dzisiak, a grower from Dauphin, Man.

Nonetheless, Dzisiak said it’s unrealistic to completely deregulate hemp production and treat the crop the same as canola, wheat and barley.

“It is still a controlled substance…. Making it totally open, what are risks?” said Dzisiak, president of the Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers Co-op, a producer group in the Dauphin area.

The Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance (CHTA), which represents growers, processors, marketers and other hemp industry players, said in December that it wants hemp production deregulated because the crop’s status is curbing industry growth.

Health Canada regulates and approves hemp production under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Canadian farmers who want to grow hemp need a licence from Health Canada.

Producers seeded 66,671 acres of industrial hemp in Canada last year, which was a 50 percent increase from 2012 and up substantially from 8,000 acres in 2008, the CHTA said. It expects that trend to continue, predicting Canadian acreage will exceed 100,000 in the next couple of years.

Shaun Crew, chief executive officer of Hemp Oil Canada, a processor in Ste. Agathe, Man., said the licensing process is unnecessary and costly.

“The bottom line is it’s an agricultural crop. It should be (under) the department of agriculture…. Rather than being looked at as a drug, it (would be) looked at as an agricultural commodity, a food product,” he said.

“It’s basically burdening the industry with added costs…. THC testing is a very real cost to both producers and processors.”

Dzisiak said applying for a hemp production licence is bothersome because it takes Health Canada months to respond to an application.

As well, the licence permits a farmer to grow a specific acreage of hemp on specific GPS co-ordinates. The rigidity of the rules can become ridiculous, he said.

“If you plant 45 acres you’re technically (violating) the permit. If you plant 38 acres, they want to know right away what happened to the other acres.”

Still, Dzisiak said the hemp industry benefits from the federal oversight.

“You have to know who’s growing, where they’re growing, so you can go and check,” he said.

“If we regulate something and have a good process, no one can ever point to us and say … ‘you’re trying to create something illegal.’ ”

Instead of deregulation, Dzisiak said Health Canada should modify its hemp production rules.

“Simplify the licences and get those licences out a little sooner. But for Health Canada to know where the crop is being grown and who is growing it, I think, needs to remain as fundamental.”

CHTA president Russ Crawford said Health Canada assumed authority over hemp production in 1998 because the federal government didn’t know how to handle the crop.

Now that the industry has matured, with dozens of established growers and numerous companies manufacturing hemp oil, hemp protein powder and hemp milk, it’s time to acknowledge that hemp is distinct from marijuana.

“Over the 15 years we’ve been under the regulation of Health Canada, there hasn’t been any occurrences of (high) THC (levels) in sampling (of hemp),” he said.

Crew said the initial fears surrounding hemp production, such as teenagers getting stoned on hemp plants or criminals growing pot in the middle of a hemp field, were unwarranted.

“People running into the hemp fields, chopping down the plants, bagging them up and selling them at the school yards. None of that ever happened.”

Crawford said the public associates hemp and marijuana and it’s been difficult to quash that perception.

As well, pot advocates like to equate hemp and marijuana, which further complicates matters.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people on the marijuana side who want to blur the line a little bit and say it’s the same thing, hemp and marijuana,” Crawford said.

“Just to create a comfort around it (marijuana), and that’s not our message at all.”

Crawford said the federal government shouldn’t play “wait and see” and duplicate how other countries deal with hemp because Canada leads the world in hemp food production.

“We need to be a leader in this respect and demonstrate that Canada is the foremost producer of hemp for food and we deem it to be safe,” he said.

“This is a nationwide opportunity…. There’s potential here for another Cinderella crop in Canada and we should do all that we can to facilitate that.”

  • Hemp licences are now valid for one calendar year. However, many growers store hemp seed past Dec. 31, either to sell the crop at a later date or for re-use. In such cases growers must reapply for a possession licence. Proposed change: Increase the licence period from one year to a maximum of four years. A grower must request an amendment to a licence if he is making changes, such as the field location.
  • Health Canada tests THC levels at three stages: plant breeding, seed production and grain production. Only three “competent” laboratories test hemp for THC in Canada, which means it can take three to five months for results, delaying licence application and approval.Proposed change: Eliminate THC testing for grain production but continue to test at plant breeding and seed production.

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