New Pot Law Big Boost for Alberta Hemp Industry

While pot smokers are cheering Canada’s looming legalization of recreational marijuana, the move is also poised to provide a big boost to the country’s growing hemp industry.

Producers expect their revenues to soar because sections of the Cannabis Act will allow them to extract non-narcotic cannabidiol (CBDs) from hemp flowers, leaves and chaff that under current laws must be discarded.

“It’s a game-changer for us,” says Diane Jang, chief executive of Hempco Food and Fibre Inc., which expects to open an industrial hemp processing plant in Nisku by early July.

“(It helps) in terms of being able to fulfill our vision of whole-plant utilization … It’s going to be very exciting.”

Hempco’s new 5,200-square-metre facility — originally set to start operating in 2017 —will initially have about 15 employees turning hemp seeds into food, snacks and oil, and creating fibres from the stalks to make building materials and textiles.

Plans to shift Hempco’s headquarters to Nisku from Burnaby, B.C., have been dropped and the company is now moving to a Vancouver office.

However, at least three more staff will be added in Nisku once the operations starts processing leaves and flowers, which will then have their CBD extracted by Hempco’s owner, Aurora Cannabis.

Aurora is developing a 75,000-square-metre cannabis production facility near Nisku on Edmonton International Airport property.

Uses for CBD include nutraceuticals (foods intended to provide medicinal or health benefits), drinks and natural health products to treat such problems as anxiety and insomnia, Jang says.

She hopes the Cannabis Act, passed by the Senate last week with amendments the government has rejected, can be sorted out and put in place before this year’s harvest wraps up in September.

In April, Hempco launched its Planet Hemp organic hemp-seed oil and CBD food supplement line in Europe.

Hemp growing at the provincially owned Innotech Alberta research centre in Vegreville.

Raising industrial hemp was forbidden in Canada until 1998 because of concerns the cannabis plants contain THC, the psychoactive drug in marijuana.

However, the roughly two dozen varieties now grown under licence from Health Canada don’t contain more than a tiny 0.3 per cent of the compound.

Hemp expert Jan Slaski, team leader in crop development and management at Innotech Alberta’s Vegreville research centre, says people in the business have been lobbying for years to be able to use the entire plant.

“With a small modification of harvesting equipment, growers will be able to collect and sell this additional material,” he says.

“It was a waste of money and revenue big-time when these leaves, flowers and you-name-it had to fall on the ground. You were seeing dollar bills falling and decaying.”

Slaski is also a director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, which predicted in a report last year that updated regulations could help hemp revenues grow five times larger and create a $1-billion Canadian industry by 2023.

He thinks that might turn out to be an under-estimate, especially with the international sales potential of CBD products.

All this expansion should provide a shot in the arm for Alberta, where farmers last year grew 18,100 hectares of Canada’s 55,800-hectare crop, more than any province  except Saskatchewan.

Although Hempco’s Nisku operation will be Alberta’s only large-scale commercial hemp processing plant when it opens, there could be at least two more facilities within a couple of years, Slaski says.

“It’s really great we’re getting one more product from this valuable crop … It’s a green gold rush,” he says, cautioning that the field still might not be the cash cow for which some entrepreneurs are hoping.

“Everyone wants to make money, because it’s very profitable, but you know what happens during a gold rush — there will only be a few winners … I think those who understand what it’s possible to do with this opportunity will survive.”

Source: Edmonton Journal