RED TAPE SMOTHERING HEMP CROP
Health Canada's "bureaucratic constipation" turns farmers' hopes into pipe dreams.
When people talk about hemp, they sound euphoric, even if the distant relative of marijuana can't make anyone high. "This is unbelievable. The response has been absolutely amazing." Says Les Patterson of Vancouver's Bowen Island Brewing, describing the company's new ale brewed with hemp rather than hops. Ruth Shamai says: "Hemp makes beautiful fabric: strong like linen and it drapes like cotton and it resists ultraviolet rays." Her Toronto company, The Natural Order, wants to make cosmetics and fabric from Canadian hemp.
Ontario car-parts maker Kenex Ltd. is so impressed bu hemp's ability to replace plastic that it wants to buy tonnes of Canadian hemp to make into panels for the auto companies. Farmers planting the first commercial hemp crop since the 1930's have a ready market for as much as they can grow. The trouble is that, more than a month into the growing season, the seeds are still not in the ground because of red tape in Ottawa. Health Canada started taking applications in March, but is only now mail9ing out growing permits to farmers across the country. "I think there is pressure on the government from the United States" where hemp growing is not legal, aid Brian Taylor, mayor of Grand Forks, B.C. Mr. Taylor, a leader in the campaign to legalize hemp growing, says it remains controversial because industrial hemp is a cousin of the marijuana plant. U.S. drug officials have resisted hemp legalization because they are worried that people might try to smoke it.
But the buzz-producing ingredient, tetrahydrocannabiol, has been bred out of industrial hemp. Mr. Taylor said. The plants contain less than 0.3 per cent THC, compared with 10 per cent or more in marijuana.
"You could say I'm a little frustrated," said farmer Kevin Miles, who hopes to soon get the seeds to plant 300 acres in hemp. "I should have had the seeds in long ago. The earlier you get it in, the bigger the tonnage per acre."
Mr. Miles, 35, who represents the third generation to work his family farm at tWaterford, near Brantford in Southern Ontario, said he wants to diversify his crop of sweet corn and pumpkins.
But it hasn't been easy.
Ottawa's concern about the possible abuses of hemp growing led to requirements that each farmer be checked for a criminal record.
The application also requires global positioning co-ordinates of the acreage to be planted so that surveillance satellites can keep an eye on it.
Samples of the crop will also have to be analyzed in a laboratory to make sure it doesn't have too much THC.
"I don't disagree with getting a licence, but it is an extremely onerous business," said The Natural Order's Ms. Shamai, who last year had a licence to grow an experimental hemp crop on an Ontario farm.
She said phone calls to the government's Hemp Project offices in Ottawa go unanswered. Callers are directed to an Internet site that is packed with regulations and numerous complicated forms that must be submitted to get a growing permit. "Farmers here have been frightened off." Mr. Taylor said. "We expected mass planting in British Columbia, but it hasn't happened."
He attributed that to "bureaucratic constipation in Ottawa. I've been fighting it for years." Mr. Taylor became enthusiastic about the commercial advantages of hemp while he was a leader of an earlier campaign to legalize marijuana.
He said officials can easily tell the difference between hemp and marijuana growing in the field.
"Until we deal with the paranoia that hangs around marijuana, we're not going to get into a major industry." Mr. Taylor added.
He expects that the public will become desensitized to the drug issue once a successful crop is harvested this year.
Mr. Miles said he has contracts to sell his hemp crop at $275 a tonne, which is about the same price as soybeans and much higher than the pumpkins he had in the field last year.
But rather than harvesting four tonnes an acre, he says he will be lucky to get three an acre if he gets the seeds in now.