Grand Forks, British Columbia – If we found a plant that would grow almost anywhere under varying climatic conditions, and that could satisfy basic food, shelter, clothing and fuel needs, one would think we would plant it everywhere possible and build industries around it.
There is such a plant, but the only people in Canada who can grow it are those who have obtained permits from Health Canada. The reason is that it is called hemp, and hemp is thought to be synonymous with marijuana or cannabis, and we all know how many people feel about it.
Industrial hemp is of the same genus as cannabis or marijuana and the very mention of hemp cultivation causes eyebrows to rise and conjures up the thought of grow ops, police raids, arrests and trials. Growing marijuana without a license is against the law. Growing hemp requires a permit.
There has been plenty of talk around Grand Forks in the past few weeks about cannabis or marijuana use for medicinal purposes, but there has been no mention of its cousin, Cannabis sativa or plain old hemp, which appears not to have entered the economic development discussions.
Both hemp and marijuana contain the psychoactive drug tetrahydrocannabinol ( THC ). However, hemp produces only trace amounts of THC or less than four parts per million of the chemical.
Prior to 1938, both marijuana and hemp could be cultivated in Canada without permit and without fear of being charged, but, following on the decision by the government of the United States, the Canadian government decided to ban the practice in 1938. However, on March 12, 1998, the ban was lifted and the cultivation, processing, transportation, sale, provision, import and export of industrial hemp were made lawful.
According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, there are more than 100 Canadian farmers in Central and Western Canada growing the crop and taking advantage of a burgeoning market.
Hemp is a universal plant that can be grown for food and non-food purposes. It’s been a source of food and fibre for well over 5,000 years. Whole hemp seed is composed of 45 percent oil, 35 per cent protein and 10 per cent carbohydrates and fibre. It can now be found in pasta, tortilla chips, salad dressings, snack products, and frozen desserts.
The fibres from hemp can be used to make clothing, rope, paper and building materials. Its oil can be used in cosmetics, paints, varnish and medicinal preparations. Hulled hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein.
Hemp will grow without the use of pesticides and herbicides, and it can reach maturity in as few as 100 days. Fewer toxic chemicals and dyes are needed when making it into a cloth, which resists mold, mildew and UV rays. Hemp paper is naturally acid-free and is long lasting, perhaps for hundreds of years. It can be made with fewer chemicals and less energy than paper made from wood cellulose.
There is a history of hemp cultivation in the Grand Forks area. It was grown for its fibres that were used in making clothing and its seeds that were pressed for oil and cooked as a breakfast cereal. All in all hemp helped the Doukhobors maintain a self-sufficient community.
There is a future for hemp cultivation on the vacant land around Grand Forks if valley residents can get over an aversion to a crop that contains minuscule amounts of THC and recognize its economic value, and the ease with which it can be grown. China, Russia and France have successful hemp industries and Canada’s is growing. Farmers in the Grand Forks area could be part of that industry.
The plant is available and has a proven track record. The Boundary Economic Development Committee ( BEDC ) should not overlook an opportunity to work with local farmers to explore the possibilities of industrial hemp production; nor should they ignore the entrepreneurs who would be willing to establish the related industries.
The failure of an effort to grow and harvest hemp a decade ago should not mean that the idea of a hemp industry should be abandoned.