ON THIS HARVEST MOON: Whole-leaf hemp harvest now allowed in Canada

By Maggie McCutcheon

IG: @redondo.bleach

Although hemp has been legal to grow and harvest since 1998, the only legally usable parts of the plant have been the stems and seeds for textiles like rope, hemp oil, or the seeds you see on salads and smoothies everywhere. The leaves and flowers, full of non-psychoactive compounds known as cannabinoids, have always had to be abandoned. This week, however, at the same time as Health Canada’s revision of their recreational cannabis rules under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, whole-plant harvest has been allowed for hemp-farmers. This small change could potentially mean big yields for hemp farmers and the Canadian economy.

Canada is well known for their booming cannabis industry and has been long before the idea of legalization. Although hemp has been legal to grow and harvest, CBD and other naturally occurring cannabinoids have remained a controlled substance. The hemp they’ve been allowed to produce has only been used for food, fibers and textiles while the leaves and flowers had to be left behind — literally rotting on the ground.

Not only is it a shame to see the compound-rich parts of the plant go to waste but the opportunity to boost the economy and private earnings for farmers as well. As Jan Slaski, a hemp researcher, observed, “The market for this class of compounds is phenomenal. In three or four years we’ll be taking cannabinoids or CBD as we take omega-3, vitamins, supplements, you name it.” With the current hemp numbers, there are estimations of turning a $500M market into a $10B one.

Although whole-plant hemp harvest laws will give farmers a new opportunity to make up for the dwindling prices of other popular crops (like wheat or canola), harvesting these compounds is no easy task. CBD and other cannabinoids are found in the delicate, brittle trichomes on the plant — just like marijuana — so the extraction involves a careful harvest, concerns for contamination, the procurement of specialized equipment, and establishing a large-scale process. Further, because hemp plants produce a lot less than their psychoactive cousin, breeding programs will be necessary in order to boost yields; not to mention, fighting the competition found in recreational marijuana farmers.

Despite these obstacles, farmers are confident and predict it will only take a few years before they are fully established. And, demonstrating the best way to beat the competition is to join it, large-scale marijuana farmers are already investing in hemp operations.