NEWSHAWK: Tue, 12 Aug 1997 SOURCE: London Free Press CONTACT: HEMP RETURNS TO ONTARIO AFTER 60YEAR PROHIBITION Promoters are quick to point out it's not the same as marijuana. By John Miner, Free Press Rural Affairs Reporter Hemp is set to return to Ontario as a commercial crop 60 years after it was outlawed by the Canadian government. Two companies in Southwestern Ontario are planning to build processing plants. Geof Kime, a partner in Hempline Inc., said his company will build a stateoftheart plant in the Middlesex County area by this fall. Hempline is also designing and building harvesting equipment and is looking for farmers to grow the crop next year. Kime said Hempline hopes to have 1,000 acres (about 400 hectares) to process next year. The other company planning to build a processing operation is Kenex Ltd., based in Pain Court. Jean LePrise of Kenex said his company is looking at contracting farmers to grow a total of 1,000 to 5,000 acres of hemp. It is now importing equipment from Europe and will make some of its own to process hemp this fall. Kime said his company will process the fibres for use in textiles, everything from carpets to wall hangings. LePrise said Kenex is looking at a wide variety of markets from auto parts to textiles. Kime is confident there will be a good market for the crop despite some initial skepticism from companies. "In the early days we had a lot of doors slammed in our faces," he said. NATURAL FIBRES: Now with an increasing demand for natural fibres, companies have really come around, he said. Kime said much of the reluctance was due to hemp's association with its narcotic cousin, marijuana. "Hemp has suffered from what I'd call a case of mistaken identity," he said. The industrial hemp farmers will be growing has no narcotic content. If people tried to smoke it they would only get sick, he said. Kime credits the strong support of the Ontario government and Noble Villeneuve, Ontario minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, for helping hemp overcome the stigma of being associated with marijuana. The Ontario government has provided more than $470,000 in grants for research and grower education. Villeneuve said the North American hemp market is valued at between $28 and $30 million a year and is increasing at a rate to $8 million to $10 million annually. Villeneuve called hemp "an agricultural Rip van Winkle." "I say its time to wake up to industrial hemp and its potential within our agriculture and food industry." One attraction for farmers is the crop doesn't require any pesticides and is so vigorous it will choke out weeds. When the crop was grown commercially in Ontario prior to being banned, farmers used it as a method of weed control. The door was opened to industrial hemp production this year when the federal government passed Bill C8 to permit commercial cultivation.