feature 514 

Industrial strength weed While the forest industry flounders, regulations allowing commercial cultivation of hemp may provide new opportunities for B.C. By Stewart Glen Alas, poor little plant. So maligned, so misunderstood, thanks in great part to William Randolph Hearst, the publishing magnate. Committed to the pulp and paper industry to supply his publishing empire with the requisite parchment while his chief competitors were using a tree-free blend of hemp and silk to create their fourth of the estate, Hearst was instrumental in getting hemp outlawed. Wily ol’ Willy found out that a distant cousin to the hemp plant was the cannabis plant. Feeding on the American public’s fear and ignorance, Hearst used the power of his empire to systematically stigmatize hemp. Reefer madness ran rampant down Main Street, U.S.A. and without so much as a How-do-ya-do in Congress, growing any strain of hemp in America became highly prosecutable. Nice day’s work there Willy. In one fell swoop, he single handedly stopped the cultivation of possibly the most important weed to ever bless this crazy, haphazard planet. Others quickly hopped into bed with Hearst, industries such as textiles, pulp and paper, forestry, oil, tobacco, the Government of Canada... Many people know the Hemp Act in the United States was repealed as a war measure in the 1940s. Commonly known as The Hemp for Victory Act, it allowed hemp to be used for uniforms, parachutes, shipping rope and a million other essential items. In fact, former U.S. President George Bush's life was saved by a hemp parachute — can you imagine what life would have been like without him? The mind reels. When the war came to an end the Hemp Act was put back into effect. It has remained in place in the hallowed halls of Washington ever since. Dateline April, 1998: Having experimented with research licensing for the past couple of years the Government of Canada is now making commercial licences available to the Canadian people to cultivate industrial hemp. Expected to be fully operational by mid-April, the amendments to Bill C-8 (The Narcotics Control Act) will allow the common Canadian farmer to apply for the right to grow and cultivate industrial hemp. According to Bonnie Fox-McIntyre, media relations person for Health Canada, recipients of research licences have paved the way for the rest of Canada to get in on the fastest growing crop in the world today. Pioneers such as Geoffrey Kime of Tillsonburg, Ontario, the mayor of Grand Forks, B.C. and farm groups such as Westhemp BC in the Lower Mainland and Transglobal Hemp Products Corp. on Vancouver Island have proven to the powers in Ottawa that hemp is indeed a viable crop and commercial opportunities are available for the product. B.C. Grain Producers president Brian Haddow says, "The potential of hemp as an agricultural crop could be compared to that of rapeseed (later renamed canola) in the late 1950s and 1960s. We need to ascertain if similar potential can be achieved with industrial hemp." An interesting side note to this is that the Americans have no plans to legitimize hemp cultivation. That being the case, sitting next door to one of the largest markets in the world could be a huge commercial opportunity for Canadian hemp growers, providing hemp products are allowed into the United States. The one troubling factor us hemp advocates constantly encounter when we find ourselves moved to pontificate on the subject, is the giddy teenage attempts at humour in linking industrial hemp with its distant cousin marijuana. Please, show a little open-mindedness and end the innuendo. HEMP IS NOT POT. If you don't imbibe in the ceremony of pot smoking yourself, ask someone who does (easily identified by their relaxed demeanour) this simple question: Would you rather have an acre of industrial hemp (approximately 1 ton) or 1 ounce (28 grams exactly) of high test, hydroponic Whistler wheelchair super stink weed? Smoke the acre and get a mild buzz (if any) and a headache the size of Intrawest. Smoke a half gram of that other stuff, throw on some Pink Floyd, and Bob's your uncle; you are higher than you really should be (and so is your Naganogram count). Once again, HEMP IS NOT POT. You can't smoke the phone book, you won't get high wearing the fabric! Now that we all agree that hemp is not pot, let's take a look at some contemporary issues facing Supernatural British Columbia. Logging families, pulp mills, salmon and coastal watersheds are all in danger. If B.C. actively cultivated industrial hemp as a crop, we could give loggers a bag full of seeds and a few 20-year-old cut blocks and have them grow the hearty weed on the sides of mountains. We would then refit mills, such as the troubled Skeena Cellulose, to process the hemp into a paper product or textiles or whatever. The Skeena mill would be back to three shifts a day and slope stabilization would occur, allowing salmon their natural right to spawn and die, unhindered by human interferences such as silt dams. And, glory of glories, that 20-year-old cut block would, in a few short years, be part of a sustainable forest. Aside from the no-brainer of making inroads on the world's paper and textile markets, wouldn't we feel that much better about ourselves from an environmental point of view? Are we still subsidizing farmers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to not grow crops? Probably, but that's a federal issue, and I'm more concerned with what hemp could do for us locally. Imagine the following news story: "Spinning the world wide attention recently lavished on Whistler/Blackcomb as the weed capital of North America, Whistler's town councillors have declared their resort as the world's first Hemp Re-education Resort. In a joint venture with Intrawest, The Resort Municipality of Whistler will begin farming, cultivating and processing a strain of the plant cannabis sativa. This strain will have an extraordinarily high fibre yield while maintaining barely discernible levels of the compound THC, commonly thought to be the hallucinogenic factor found in the plant’s leaves. "The designated crop zones include The Soo and Callaghan valleys. The Woodfibre mill across the sound from Squamish has been purchased and is currently being retooled to process hemp into pulp and pulp into textile and paper products. The mill will be open for business late this summer, in time to process the first harvest. It is forecast that as early as next ski season Whistler will be totally T-shirt self reliant. "In yet another bold announcement this week, Intrawest has decided to plant a crop of hemp on the Springboard, Gandy Dancer and Choker ski runs and will be offering hiking and biking educational tours beginning this summer. The crop, once harvested, will be used in an assortment of baked goods extolling the virtues and nutritive value of the hemp seed. As well, Intrawest plans to be completely paper self reliant. "It is the hope of the citizens of Whistler to be an example to the rest of Canada. Playing the role of guinea pig, Whistler will be closely monitored by various government agencies in an effort to determine the viability of harvesting this plant on a national scale." At first glance, the above fabricated news story may seem like a pipe dream to some, but history, medicine, industry and our own federal government are all on the side of industrial hemp. On March 13 federal Health Minister Allan Rock announced that regulations are in place to provide permits to commercial hemp growers. Importers, exporters, distributors, growers and processors will be required to apply for licences through Health Canada. Meanwhile, B.C. Agricultural Minister Corky Evans stated in a news release dated March 25 that, "B.C. farmers have the business expertise to excel at growing and marketing industrial hemp, as they are doing with ginseng and other special crops. (Hemp) has great potential to create jobs, strengthen rural development and diversify the agriculture sector through dozens of value-added products like paper, rope, textiles and even hemp-flavoured beer." If the wags back there in Ottawa and those over there on "The Island" say it’s okay, that it’s legal, then should we not be the first onto the bandwagon? The time has come. We know that our community is basically a one company town, and we are looking for secondary and tertiary industries to fall back on should the freezing level rise to 10,000 feet. I say to you my neighbour, let’s set to work on all the old logging cut blocks, retool a few pulp mills, hire some out-of-work loggers to become cultivators and get off the pot and plant a seed for the future. Save the salmon and the B.C. economy; grow hemp and prosper.

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