Outdoor cannabis regs leave hemp producers out of luck

Hemp producers hoping to buffer their crops from outdoor cannabis were left out in the cold when final cannabis regulations were unveiled earlier this month

Hemp growers say they are not impressed by the lack of buffer zones in regulations that would govern outdoor cannabis production.

Health Canada has confirmed that licences will allow cannabis to be cultivated and harvested outside after legalization Oct. 17, although, “all other activities with respect to cannabis must take place indoors, such as trimming, drying, storing, processing and other steps in the production chain, a Health Canada spokesperson said in an email.

The hemp sector says those regulations do not address their concerns on cross-contamination.

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“They still have some work to do on that,” Keith Jones, vice-president of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, said. “As part of our response to the public consultation, we raised the issue of a requirement for buffer zones so that there isn’t cross-contamination and that hemp farmers aren’t held liable for any contamination or denaturing of outdoor production of cannabis.”

The federal government recently unveiled its final regulations on both hemp and cannabis after months of public consultation starting in late 2017.

Proposed regulations had already suggested allowing outdoor cannabis growing during that consultation. In March, a summary report noted that while, “those who agreed generally felt that outdoor cultivation was the most economical and environmentally sustainable way to grow cannabis,” pointing to natural light and water, “some respondents questioned whether there is a potential impact on adjacent agricultural crops (including industrial hemp).”

Cross-contamination may be big trouble for hemp, given the crop’s low limit for THC, the chemical responsible for the high in marijuana. Federal guidelines require hemp to fall below 0.3 per cent THC.

Cannabis might put that limit at risk if there are nearby hemp fields producing seed, according to Chris Dzisiak, chair of Manitoba’s Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers.

“You’ll now be crossing plants,” he said. “Maybe that seed is going to have a higher THC level than previously.”

Many of his co-op’s varieties hover around 0.05 per cent THC, he added, something the Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers would like to preserve.

Health Canada has said that final regulations would technically allow a producer to grow both cannabis and hemp, as long as both varieties are approved and cannabis is grown according to federal security requirements.

The agency also noted, however, that provinces and territories might add their own requirements, which could extend to buffer zones.

Lead time

While the hemp industry is expressing its disappointed that buffer zones were excluded from the regulations, Jones expects a significant lag before larger-scale outdoor cannabis crops become a problem.

“Some of those security provisions are going to be pretty dramatic for outdoor cultivation of high-THC cannabis as well as the storage and the good production practice guidelines that really were initially established for horticultural production. It’s going to be pretty hard to grow high-THC cannabis outdoors based on both of those restrictions,” he said.

Health Canada says that outdoor cannabis will face the same strict security guidelines as plants grown indoors, including constant video monitoring around the operation’s perimeter, restricted access to all areas, identification of every person accessing a storage area, physical barriers around all operational areas, video monitoring in all areas except the grow area, which must only have cameras at the entries and exits, electronic intruder detection systems, and specific specs for storage areas. Growers will also face quality assurance and sanitation stipulations.

Dzisiak says he also anticipates a lag before Manitoba starts to see viable outdoor cannabis production.

“It’ll be interesting if someone wants to grow it outside,” he said, pointing to things like bird contamination. “I’d like to see how they do it because there’s going to be lots of potential problems.”

The Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance says it has been in contact with Health Canada and hopes to see a buffer zone requirement added before outdoor cultivation gains traction.

About the author

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Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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