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Canada - Hemp returns to area fields

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London Free Press
December 30, 1997

Hemp returns to area fields
Thousands of hectares could be planted in 1998
By John Miner and Jonathan Sher

London, Ontario Mixed in with the corn and bean fields around London next summer will be an eye-catching crop that has been an agricultural outlaw for 60 years. Hundreds of London region farmers could be growing commercial hemp -- a close relative of the marijuana plant banned in 1938 -- after the federal government moved ahead with regulations for the crop. Two companies in the London region say the regulations, expected to be given final approval in early 1998, open the door for thousands of hectares to be grown in Southwestern Ontario next summer.

FROM CARPETS TO CAR PARTS
Both Kenex Ltd. of Pain Court in Kent County and Middlesex County-based Hempline Inc., say they'll contract with farmers to grow hemp, which will be used in everything from carpets to paper and automotive parts. "We're hoping for a couple of thousand acres this coming year," Jean LePrise of Kenex said Monday. Kenex is building a processing plant north of Pain Court. LePrise is confident there will be no difficulty finding growers. "There is lots of interest. We have 300 to 400 signed up wanting acreage," he said. Kenex will contract with farmers in Kent, Essex, Lambton and Middlesex, he said. Hempline Inc. is building equipment for a hemp processing plant to be built in the London area. Geof Kime, a partner in Hempline, said the company is slightly behind schedule but expects to have its plant set up early in 1998. Hempline will have contracts with farmers in the London area to grow a total of 300 to 450 hectares next summer. A number of companies in the United States are interested in buying the processed hemp for use in textiles, Kime said. The regulations will put Ontario several years ahead of jurisdictions in the United States in hemp production, and that's expected to provide millions in export revenue for Canada. But while the farmers will have the government's blessing to plant hemp, grown for fibre and oil, they'll have to comply with tough security measures. Some are designed to ensure the THC level in hemp is so low people won't be able to get high from it. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Area MPs have been lobbying for action on the crop for years. "Hemp has unlimited potential," said MP Paul Steckle (L -- Huron-Bruce), but don't expect huge crops in the near future.

ACCEPTANCE TIME
"The fact that many associate hemp with look-alike marijuana . . . (means) there'll be a period of time for the community to accept hemp," he said. But in the long term, hemp has the potential to become an important crop, especially if new uses are found for textile production, Steckle said. "Hopefully the regulations will be in place and we'll be ready to grow by the first of March." People pushing for a return of hemp production were afraid bureaucrats at Health Canada would stall the needed regulations even though the crop had the support of politicians. Last spring, senior bureaucrats in the department were called before a Senate committee to explain why the regulations were not in place. The federal regulations published in the Canada Gazette require anyone growing, processing or exporting hemp to have a licence from Health Canada. To get a licence, individuals can't have been found guilty of any drug offence in the previous 10 years. Farmers will not be allowed to grow less than four hectares of hemp and have to be at least 18 years old. The crop can't be grown within one kilometre of school grounds or any public place frequented by people under 18. Hemp has to be stored in a locked container or location and samples of the crop have to be tested at a laboratory to determine THC concentration. Advocates of hemp have argued it will be a valuable crop worth millions for Canadian farmers that will allow them to cut pesticide use.

PROCESSING JOBS
It is also expected to create processing jobs and supply fibre for the pulp and paper industry, reducing the depletion of Canadian forests. And, Steckle said, advocates for hemp "presented convincing arguments that it would be profitable with not a lot of risk from disease." Opponents see industrial hemp production as the first step in a move to permit legal possession of marijuana. Availability of industrial hemp and the ability to apply for a licence could be used as a legitimate front to disguise trafficking in marijuana, they have argued.