Pubdate: Sat, 16 Jul 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager
Page: S1


A cousin of marijuana, the plant is reported to be effective in
treating epilepsy and other ailments, Mike Hager writes

Each month, Sebastian Cyr uses a specialized extraction device he
describes as being "as simple as a toaster," to make a concoction that
he says relieves his Lyme disease symptoms.

The Montreal resident dumps two cups of coconut oil into a contraption
marketed as the Magical Butter Machine, along with 15 grams of
cannabis, which he gets delivered through the mail from one of
Canada's two dozen licensed commercial growers.

"Out of that, I crank out 250 capsules," says Mr. Cyr, who takes four
of these pills three times a day. The pills don't get him high, but
they help him deal with the spasticity in his back and his limbs.

Federally-regulated medical marijuana producers started producing and
selling oils after a Supreme Court of Canada decision last year, but
patients complain it's expensive and supplies often run low or sell
out. And even then, only a handful are producing the particular
varieties that Mr. Cyr says help him. Buying the raw buds and making
his own capsules is at least half the cost of purchasing the
producers' cannabis oil.

These are all problems the nation's hemp growers - which until now
have been limited to selling seeds and fibre for consumer products -
say they can easily solve, and their federal trade association is
pressing Health Canada to let them break into the medical market.

Hemp is marijuana's taller, skinnier cousin. While bearing the same
unmistakable odour of pot, all hemp grown in Canada must have only
trace amounts of the tetrahydrocannabinol compound, or THC, found in
marijuana that gets people high. Instead, most hemp is rich in
cannabidiol, or CBD, which emerging research suggests is effective in
treating epilepsy and a range of other ailments. These high-CBD
products are increasingly appealing to families with children who
suffer frequent seizures.

Mr. Cyr makes his capsules from marijuana strains that have been bred
to contain high levels of CBD and low levels of THC. But hemp growers
say there are thousands of acres of farmland in Western Canada that
could produce similar strains to what Mr. Cyr uses in his capsules.
Hemp farmers say they can do this much cheaper than the licensed
marijuana growers, in large part because they don't need the Fort
Knox-style security required of those growers to prevent theft or
diversion to the black market.

"It's an absolute waste of a crop that has significant potential,"
says Kim Shukla, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of hemp is legally grown
across the Prairies and harvested for seeds and fibre before the rest
of the crop - the flowers, bracts and leaves - are threshed into chaff
and left to decompose.

The seeds are often exported as hemp hearts or ground up into flour,
both trumpeted for high levels of unsaturated or "good" fat and
protein, respectively. The fibre can be harvested for rope or
clothing, but only about 10 per cent of the Canadian crop is used
commercially because the country's textile manufacturing sector is not
large enough.

Although this hemp must contain less than 0.03 per cent THC, it can
have much higher concentrations of CBD, which Health Canada also
classifies as a controlled substance that may only be produced by
those licensed in its mail-order medical marijuana system.

Since 2009, Ms. Shukla's trade association has asked the federal
government to update its hemp regulations, which were adopted in 1998
when, she says, CBD had already been lumped in with cannabis and its
other derivatives as dangerous substances.

Canada is now the world's largest exporter of industrial hemp - mostly
for food products destined for the United States - and could be
shipping $142-million worth of products by 2020, she said.

But that market could suffer as the U.S. hemp industry grows; it is
currently just a tenth the size of its Canadian counterpart. More than
half of the states have legalized industrial hemp farming, although
only the stalks may be used to make commercial products. Since the
stalk does not contain much of the sought-after CBD compound, U.S.
companies must import their high-CBD oils from European hemp producers
if they want to make medicinal products legally.

Hemp startup Phivida Organics Inc. is based in Vancouver, but is
restricted to selling its high-CBDoil-infused foods across the United
States because the compound is still illegal in Canada unless it is
produced under Ottawa's commercial medical marijuana system.

"We'd love to be able to offer this to Canadian families as a Canadian
company," says president John-David Belfontaine.

Mr. Belfontaine is also the president of another company waiting for
Health Canada to approve its application, filed in 2013, to grow
medical marijuana at a facility in Squamish, B.C., so it can sell
high-CBD products to Canadians.

For now, he says Phivida will focus on their U.S. business while
hoping legislation expected next year to legalize recreational
marijuana will open up the market for CBD-based medical products in

Ms. Shukla says that is a no-brainer as Canadian hemp companies have
proven over the past two decades that their flour and seed products
are safe for consumer products. Her trade group has also been asking
Health Canada to drop the onerous testing requirements that prove the
THC levels in their crops remain below 0.3 per cent.

To date, their lobbying has fallen on the deaf ears of a government
that thinks "we're not important enough," Ms. Shukla said.

"We're kind of an odd bird; we're a different fit [for Health
Canada]," she said.

The federal agency refused to say whether it has any plans to grant
the industry's wishes, with spokesman Andre Gagnon noting it continues
to engage with Ms. Shukla's association and other stakeholders "to
inform a balanced and evidence-based approach to controlled drugs and

Two summers ago, Jim Rogers, a lifelong wheat and canola farmer from
Saskatchewan, told The Globe he was excited to cash in on the new crop
after getting licensed by Health Canada.

None of his other crops has ever generated such a buzz from

"It's entertainment; people want to see it," Mr. Rogers said.
"Generally the reaction has been positive. People are just curious."

But, that interest didn't translate into good business. Recently, he
said he had given up his foray with the plant after two harvests
because a supply glut at the country's biggest wholesaler has allowed
him to sell just a quarter of all the hemp he has grown.

Asked if he would consider growing hemp again to make CBD-rich pills
and oils instead of trying to sell it as a food product, Mr. Rogers
said: "It's a lot of regulation to do that. I wouldn't really want to
go any further."
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