In hemp fields across Canada, farmers spend months planting, watering and weeding the hemp. But when harvest time comes, part of the plant is tossed aside, even though it’s quite valuable.
It’s called cannabidiol, better known as CBD, and it’s contained in the flowering parts and leaves of the hemp plant.
“Just the leaves themselves, we’re not allowed to harvest,” said Keith Jones, the general manager of Rowland Farms.
Jones manages the largest hemp farm in the world, located in Taber, Alta. He says they’re forced to waste CBD-rich parts of the plant.
“Unfortunately, Health Canada’s regulation only allows us to harvest the seed and the stalk,” he said.
“We’re not allowed to harvest the other plant parts even though hemp has been grown now for almost 20 years,” Jones added. “We know it’s safe.”
Dr. Steven Laviolette is a neuroscientist at the University of Western Ontario and has been studying the effects of CBD on brain disorders for years. He tells Global News there is compelling evidence CBD could treat several neurological diseases.
“A lot of clinical evidence is showing that CBD is an effective treatment for several different mental disorders and psychiatric disorders,” Laviolette said.
“It can shut down the dopamine system that is associated with schizophrenia and other sorts of mental illnesses.”
Every year, farmers are forced to throw away their hemp leaves because of government regulations.
While growing industrial hemp was legalized in 1998, the plant was classified as a narcotic product, meaning it’s treated as a controlled substance. For farmers, that meant they could only harvest the plant’s seeds and tough stalk to make fibres, but could not sell the leaves containing CBD.
“The cannabis plant is currently controlled under Schedule Two of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Therefore, hemp is also controlled,” said Andre Gagnon, a media relations officer for Health Canada.
But Laviolette tells Global News that Health Canada is wrong. He maintains CBD is not a drug, doesn’t get you high and doesn’t need to be controlled.
“It simply doesn’t have any narcotic properties associated with it,” he said.
Laviolette says CBD is an exciting new medical possibility but its regulation is holding Canada back.
“We’re sitting on a large amount of potentially-useful CBD and it’s just being wasted basically because we can’t access it with the current restrictions,” he told Global News.
Jones agrees with Laviolette and says deregulating the harvesting of industrial hemp is exactly what Canada’s economy needs.
“There’s a whole series of value-added industry that could be developed in western Canada,” Jones said.
“We know that value added in agriculture is one of the things that can really move our economy forward if we got the opportunity to harvest these whole plant parts.”
Russ Crawford is the president of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance (CHTA) and calls the regulation a wasted opportunity.
“For us to be preventing it to be produced – or making it very difficult through legislation with Health Canada – is a real crime and a travesty for Canadian farmers,” he said.
“Right now, it’s considered in the same vein as cocaine and heroin – that’s the status it has with Health Canada as a controlled substance and it’s just wrong.”
The CHTA estimates 40 kilograms of cannabis resin is produced per hectare. Based on statistics provided by Health Canada, the CHTA projects in 2017, there will be about 60, 807 hectares of hemp permitted in Canada. After doing the math, the numbers are staggering: over 2.4 billion grams of hemp containing CBD is potentially left in Canadian fields.
“I define it as a lost opportunity,” Crawford said.
“We haven’t even remotely touched the therapeutic or the CBD side, so you start looking at those other revenue opportunities for Canadian farmers and hemp is really the crop of the future.”
Crawford says the value in whole-plant production far exceeds just financial.
Currently, CBD is imported into North America from countries where whole-plant use is legal.
In Canada, CBD is only available with a prescription. But by allowing farmers to harvest CBD from crops in Canada, Laviolette says it would reduce to the cost to patients.
Watch below: In May 2015, Lama Nicolas filed this report about Alex Repetski’s three-year-old daughter Gwen who has epilepsy. He says her seizures stopped after medicating with cannabis oil but it’s illegal in Canada.
Hemp farmers hope the impending legalization of marijuana will help their case.
Some say if Canadians can legally buy marijuana, no one should have a problem with hemp farmers selling their leaves with CBD.