P.E.I. hemp growers lobby for seed with higher CBD, similar to U.S.
'Put these Canadian farmers on a level playing field with the American farmers'
Some farmers growing hemp on P.E.I. want to be able to grow varieties that have higher levels of CBD.
They've been lobbying federal government agencies and politicians.
"We've sent letters to all the MPs, particularly in Prince Edward Island, we've sent letters to the prime minister," said Phillip Jennings, of Lorne Valley Ranch in eastern P.E.I.
"We've even had people in government that have gone to Ottawa and say, put these Canadian farmers on a level playing field with the American farmers and allow them to grow some of these high CBD clones."
Jennings and five other P.E.I. farmers are growing 300 acres of hemp under contract to Dosecann, an extraction facility in Charlottetown.
Jennings also grows 750 acres of hemp in the United States.
CBD is a compound found in the cannabis plant. It is not intoxicating, according to Health Canada.
In the United States, the secretary of agriculture has given hemp farmers an exemption to grow varieties that are not yet certified.
"You need two Canadian ministers to get together, the health minister and agriculture minister, they need to sit down in a room and say, 'Let's do the same thing that Secretary Purdue did in the United States,'" Jennings said.
"Put our Canadian farmers equal with the American farmers, allow them to grow these varieties under an exemption for a few years, until the university or somebody comes up with truly-certified varieties."
Jennings said the Canadian rules are putting P.E.I. farmers at a disadvantage and costing them potential earnings.
"We're growing at best a five per cent CBD," Jennings said.
"If we could grow some of the other varieties, the good varieties that are coming out of private research around the world, it could be as high as 16 per cent, so you're talking about an increase in value of triple the price."
Step up lobbying
Tyler Macdonald of Red Earth Cannabis has also been talking to Health Canada about hemp with higher CBD.
His company is building an extraction lab for CBD in Brackley, P.E.I.
"I think we need to step up those lobbying efforts," Macdonald said.
"Right now, Canadian producers are at a disadvantage and we need to work really hard to get that change quickly."
Macdonald said his company didn't even plant hemp this summer, in part because of the low CBD levels.
"We planned on growing this year, but obviously we opted out with the CBD levels," Macdonald said.
"Just wait on Health Canada to see if they would approve more cultivars for next year. We took a step back and this year focused on our processing facility and getting that up and running."
Macdonald hopes there will be more options for 2020.
"We'd love to see a new approved cultivar for hemp at least 10-per-cent-plus CBD concentration," Macdonald said.
"It's much better for the processor. More oil content and more quality of product as well."
Macdonald has also been making his case provincially and with the federal government.
"The indications from Health Canada right now is there is something coming down the pipe and we're looking forward to those responses here, come the fall," Macdonald said.
"Hopefully a lot higher CBD levels here in Canada, to put us back at a good advantage here compared to the U.S."
The Canadian Seed Growers' Association has also been receiving lots of questions from hemp growers looking for seed with higher CBD levels.
"I've had multiple calls from all kinds of people all spring and summer long asking about this question specifically, 'how can I get American varieties into Canada and grow them?'" said Michael Scheffel, managing director, policy and standards with the association.
"Unfortunately I've had to tell them that it's not possible at this time to do that because of the regulation and the policies that are currently in place from Health Canada."
Scheffel points to the industrial hemp regulations that specify that growers can only cultivate hemp in Canada provided it is pedigreed seed of an approved cultivar.
P.E.I. isn't the only province where farmers are lobbying for hemp seed with higher CBD, so are other growers across Canada.
"Primarily in the prairies where there is much larger acreage going into production," said Adam MacLean, with the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture.
"There is a recognition that we need to get access to the higher-CBD varieties in order to compete with American production."
MacLean estimates farmers on P.E.I. are growing 500 to 600 acres of hemp in 2019.
When contacted by CBC, Health Canada said it will "continue to engage with the industrial hemp industry and consider improvements to the regulations that are consistent with the objectives of the Cannabis Act."
Jennings and his group hope to start harvesting their hemp in early October.
He's hoping the farmers will make around $5,000 to $7,000 an acre, but said it could be worth even more, if he was allowed to use the varieties being grown in the U.S.
"We have farmers in the States that are doing [$25,000 to $45,000 an acre], I know one field that did $75,000 an acre," Jennings said.
"If we get those same varieties, the Canadian farmers will have that same opportunity."