An Ontario company says it has secured $2 million from investors to open the first North American bio-processing plant for industrial hemp.

Stonehedge Bio-Resources Inc., based in Stirling, Ont., north of Belleville, announced it plans to open a bio-refining facility this year.

Hemp is the common name for the cannabis plant, which has fibrous roots, stalks and stems useful for producing a variety of products and seeds that are edible. The flowers, buds and leaves of some strains are used to produce drugs such as marijuana and hashish because they contain a psychoactive compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but industrial hemp is bred to produce very little THC.

The Stonehedge plant would produce Hemcrete, a limestone building material similar to concrete that is considered to be more environmentally friendly.

The company also expects to produce more than $17 million per year in renewable hemp fibre, wood-like chips, pellets, matting and seed products.

Stonehedge Bio-Resources says it plans to start with five employees this year and employ up to 27 people by 2011.

The company says the global renewable and bioproducts industry is expected to exceed $125 billion in revenues by 2010.