Ottawa takes steps to deregulate hemp farming

Yesterday was a “great day” for Canadian hemp growers because the federal government eased regulations for testing and cultivation of industrial hemp.

Health Canada, in a Notice to Industry document, said it was eliminating testing for THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in most varieties of hemp.

As well, growers will no longer have to identify fields for planting of hemp, prior to spring seeding.

In federal government language, the change is an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

“The Exemption better aligns regulation of industrial hemp with the demonstrated low public health and safety risk of the crop,” Health Canada said in the Notice to Industry. “The Exemption is an interim measure to simplify the licence application process as the Government moves forward with its commitment to legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.”

For years, Canadian hemp growers and hempseed processors have asked the federal government to simplify and remove regulations for hemp production.

So, the Health Canada announcement was fantastic news.

“It’s a great day for the hemp industry…. They just made growing hemp and acquiring licenses and testing … a whole lot simpler,” said Russ Crawford, Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance president.

“The barriers to production have been reduced significantly. (We’re) starting to treat (hemp) more like a grain and oilseed crop. We’re not there yet, but we’re a lot closer then we were.”

The federal government permitted cultivation of industrial hemp in the late 1990s and it’s been grown for nearly two decades, mostly in Western Canada.

But it was never treated like other crops.

Health Canada required farmers to get a production licence and a criminal record check, and testing for THC content was a key part of the regulations.

In the last several years the CHTA said the regulatory system was “antiquated” and unnecessary because industrial hemp is distinct from marijuana and the public has safely consumed millions of kilograms of hemp oil, protein, milk and other hemp foods.

The CHTA argued the regulations were holding back expansion of what is now a significant industry.

Western Canadian farmers seeded 70,000 to 100,000 acres of hemp in the last few years, and in 2015 Canadian processors exported $93 million of hempseed, hemp oil and related products.

The CHTA lobbied Ottawa to relax the regulations for much of 2015 and 2016, but Crawford thought the talks were fruitless.

“We didn’t think we were getting anywhere and then boom, they just kind of surprised us with this,” he said. “It’s excellent. We’re really, really happy with it.”

The interim changes include:

• Industrial hemp growers will be able to choose fields at the time of seeding. Before they had to identify sites and notify the government prior to planting.

• One licence will cover all cultivation sites and activities, reducing the number of licences.

• The requirement for THC testing for most hemp varieties has been eliminated, provided the variety is on a list of approved cultivars.

• The expiry date of a licence has been extended until March of the following year to allow for the sale of products grown in the previous year.

• Applications will be accepted electronically via email.

While the hemp industry is pleased, one issue was omitted from the regulatory change. Health Canada prohibits the harvest of hemp flowers and tissue to extract compounds known as cannabinoids. Evidence suggests that cannabinoids could be used for pain relief, anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure treatments.

A federal government taskforce is considering the legalization of marijuana, and a decision on hemp cannabinoids will likely be included in its recommendations.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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