Canada has been a leader in hemp production and its utilization since production was legalized in 1997, but now it risks being supplanted by the United States because of archaic Canadian laws, Kim Shukla, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance (CHTA) says.
“We have a world-leading industry here in so far as the volume of production of hemp and we’re adding value on Canadian soil and not exploiting it as a commodity,” Shukla said in an interview Nov. 25, shortly after the alliance held its annual meeting in Calgary. “We’re on the cusp of losing that competitive advantage because of these restrictions that are in place. The U.S. has made tremendous inroads in the last two years… and it is our largest export market.”
In Canada, only the bare stock and seed can be harvested from hemp, Shukla said. The rest of the plant, including leaves, bracts, branches and roots, must be destroyed, according to Health Canada regulations.
Hemp seed is made into various food and cosmetic products. The stalks are used for fibre. But research shows certain chemicals in other parts of hemp can be made into natural health products and even medical drugs.
Health Canada prohibits it even though by definition hemp must contain 0.3 per cent or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive responsible for the “high in marijuana, which is related to hemp.
One phytochemical of interest in hemp is a cannabinoid called cannabidiol or CBD.
“Cannabidiol may serve as an effective treatment for devastating psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Dr. Steve Laviolette of the University of Western Ontario said in a CHTA news release. “In addition, emerging evidence is revealing potential benefits of cannabidiol for the treatment of epilepsy.”
According to Wikipedia, an orally administered liquid containing CBD has received orphan drug status in the U.S. for use as a treatment for Dravet syndrome, under the brand name Epidiolex.
Wikipedia also says CBD is found in marijuana. It may be that link that’s behind Health Canada’s reluctance to allow the whole hemp plant to be used, Shukla said.
“I think there was fear at the time,” Shukla said. “I think there were a lot of unknowns. But we’ve gone back to the government time and time again with researchers from across Canada who have said the THC levels do not go up — they do not exist at different levels within the same plant and we are abiding by the regulations and keeping our THC levels below 0.3 per cent.”
Up until 2013, when the federal government launched its Red Tape Commission to cut bureaucracy, Health Canada hadn’t acknowledge CHTA’s requests for changes.
“We called, we emailed, we wrote letters there was no response,” Shukla said.
“As a taxpayer I was appalled.”
Since then the CHTA has spoken with Health Canada officials. Some attended the CHTA’s annual meeting — but there haven’t been any changes.
“Our membership is taking it on with their local MPs,” Shukla said. “We are engaging a law firm to assist us in moving things through. We are going to have a lobby effort here because that seems to be the only thing that might help precipitate change.”
Part of the problem with Health Canada, Shukla said, is officials don’t understand hemp and don’t recognize it’s a commercial crop like wheat or canola. This year, 84,000 acres of hemp were grown in Western Canada. Saskatchewan is the biggest producer followed by Alberta and Manitoba.
“In spite of all the archaic regulations we have been able to carve out a valuable industry,” Shukla said. “One company just sold for $130 million in Canada.”
But the potential is in the billions of dollars given the health benefits, she added.
The Manitoba Co-operator asked Health Canada why other parts of Canadian hemp plants can’t be harvested and processed and if there are plans to change the regulations.
Health Canada provided the following statement: “Industrial hemp is defined in the International Health Regulations (IHR) as cannabis containing 0.3 per cent or less THC in the leaves and flowering heads of the growing plant. The cultivation of industrial hemp in Canada is mainly for the seed, grain or fibre where it is further processed into food, cosmetic or industrial products.
Health Canada conducted a thorough review of the IHR in 2013, and consulted widely on a range of issues at that time. The feedback received from these consultations is being taken into account as Health Canada considers next steps for the IHR (see also ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ on the Health Canada website).
Health Canada did not respond to a subsequent request to explain why the regulations haven’t changed and if they will change.