Canadian hemp leaders are ringing the alarm bells, calling for government to take swift action to loosen up regulation of the domestic hemp industry as U.S. hemp gets rolling. Canadian hemp firms say they need changes to offset eventual losses in the main export market across their southern border — changes that will be critical as the U.S. hemp industry begins to expand.
“Seven years is too long to wait for change,” said Russ Crawford, Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance (CHTA) president, noting his group asked Health Canada for regulatory changes as early as 2009. After pushing for consultations that were finally held in 2013, changes were nonetheless not forthcoming, Crawford said.
Period of adjustment
Ca 80,000 Canadian acres were reported under hemp in 2015, with about 80% of that yield destined for the U.S. market. But Canadian fields are contracting sharply due to a current grain glut that’s not projected to sort itself out until 2017, putting the industry under further pressure. Growers and processors attribute that situation to higher than expected yields in the past couple years, indicating a period of adjustment for Canadian hemp over the next 24 months.
Obviously as U.S. hemp farming and production gets rolling, the Canadians will be forced to expand south, bringing investment along with their years of trial-and-error experience and a range of specialized harvesting and processing technology they’ve developed.
In the meantime there are already indicators that the Canadian strategy going forward is to begin to diversify in two ways. First, into strictly organic-based hemp food and health products, demand for which the industry cannot keep up with at present. Additionally, Canadian hemp players are expected to make a strong move into hemp straw processing for everything from bioplastics to building materials and textiles, with some projections reflecting exponential growth in output through 2020.
Big potential in CBD
But the potential big moneymaker from hemp is CBD, the derivative that has a range of medical and health benefits — for which Canadian hemp farmers are prohibited from growing under present regulations.
CHTA points out that research released as late as this month continues to establish CBD’s health benefits for such conditions as schizophrenia related symptoms, and called for Health Canada to treat hemp like other agricultural crops such as wheat and canola.
“We want hemp to be as any other crop grown in the country, and industrial hemp deserves it,” Jan Slaski, hemp researcher with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, has said.
CHTA position papers have been sent to Canadian Minister of Health Jane Philpott requesting changes to hemp rules be put on a fast track.