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The Ever Puzzling Hemp Derangement Syndrome

My childhood and adolescence in Alberta in the 60s and 70s, a time when the establishment could fairly be called "conservative" or "right wing". These aren't terms I'm terribly fond of but nevertheless convey some conventional understanding of the character of the politics of the time. It was time when my grandfather would not be caught dead wearing a red tie for fear someone might think he was a communist. It was the days of "better dead than red". At this time of anti-communist thinking was the hysterical war on drugs which really began decades earlier along with the war on communism. Swept up in this hysteria was Hemp. Hemp, prior to and during the early part of the 20th century was an important agricultural crop providing many valuable products. During my early years though it was not uncommon to hear the intoxicating cannabis variety referred to as hemp as though there was no real difference. Without doubt this was a convenient blurring of two very different crops for those who wished to suppress hemp's existence.

Flash forward to the supposedly liberal 21st century in a country that legalized cannabis in general and there is still antipathy to hemp found in keys places. One place where that antipathy is still found is the Canadian Government (or at least with the bureaucrats that really rule over us) where regulations are designed to keep hemp products restricted and expensive. I was disappointed with the heavy handed legislation created to make the sale of recreational cannabis legal in Canada, but what few people noticed was that hemp became further restricted even as the Industrial Hemp Act did loosen some requirements such as acreage size. What they did do without any fanfare was to prohibit the open sale of hemp essential oil. Hemp essential oil is made of terpenes that are found throughout nature in varying quantities. The dominant terpene that was Bud Rub's target compound in hemp essential oil, β-Caryophyllene, is found in many other plants including clove, black pepper, and hops. There are no terpenes found in hemp that aren't widely available in other crops yet the gatekeepers at Health Canada deemed it necessary to restrict their possession and sale to those with licenses issued under the Cannabis Act. Ostensibly this is done to protect the public. When asked at a Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance conference in Calgary Mike McGuire from Health Canada stated this product (Hemp essential oil) can only be sold by prescription and produced by those with Cannabis licenses. Many farmers asked about processing their hemp aerial parts and all were told they were confined to working with seeds and fibre only. To be clear, those with hemp farms do not need a cannabis license to grow hemp but these farmers must still surrender the raw materials used to produce essential oils to someone with a cannabis license or destroy them (releasing GHG sequestered back into the atmosphere). This deliberate stifling of the industry when there is no pubic health risk what so ever will almost certainly lead to a limited number of Canadian players while entrepreneurs in other countries will move ahead and dominate the market.

This desire to keep hemp confined with tight regulations or ban it altogether in some sectors is confusing given some of the steps toward legalization of the intoxicating variety here in Canada and elsewhere. If this were a Canada-only phenomena it would sound like business as usual here in the great white north where Ottawa famously like to manage (stifle) industries in order to "protect" them. A similar case in point would be the one around controlling what Canadians see when using online social media such as Youtube. Currently Canadians are very successful online yet Ottawa is claiming this will help Canadian content creators. Like this attempt to reign in online Canadian content the stifling of the hemp industry is to ensure the players in the industry's key positions are those approved by Ottawa's bureaucrats. Ottawa, though, is not the only centre for hemp suppression. The great plethora of "social" media that dominate the lives of so many people also suffer from HDS. Facebook, Instagram, Google, Pinterest, and Twitter all suffer from this tragic and damaging malady. Facebook and Google have long since run interference in the promotion of hemp products.

Facebook is characteristically mute on why they ban my ads and only refer me to the policy section wherein they point out that illegal drugs and paraphernalia can't be promoted on their platform. Facebook claims to allow ads for hemp with certain provisos yet even when the specified conditions are met the ads are banned. The New York based company Let There be Hemp who make and sell tortilla chips were blocked from advertising on Facebook. Their tortilla chips do not contain THC. The same article in the NY Post also presented a gelato maker whose product was likewise banned from Facebook even though hers is simply a food product made with hemp. The Post shared a quote from a facebook email sent to the founder of Let There be Hemp as a way of explaining why his ads are blocked. The email stated “at times some content may get detected related to content that has been marked as unsafe.” Strangely, at this point, they did not reverse the decision even though they had manually detected the legitimacy of the advertising. My product has also been blocked repeatedly even though I conformed to their guidelines. The typical response has been to state my product is promoting "illegal drugs" with a link to their policy on the subject. Facebook, like the early legislators is either confusing or conflating industrial hemp with the intoxicating breed.

Google too has a long history or thwarting my efforts to grow my business. In a conversation with a google employee I was told my ad could not run because Kwakuitl is a "drug word". I would expect a company that has a small share of the search engine business would be able to discover the real meaning of the word and then know just how completely wrong they really were in making that decision. I encourage the reader to look this word up and discover it has nothing whatsoever to do with drugs. In my humble opinion I submit that this was really a ruse and that they did not really believe Kwakiutl is a drug reference at all. Instead they are, like so many other governments and businesses determined to keep hemp contained. I spoke with the employee longer to learn what I could about their thinking. It was later revealed that the word "hemp" itself is a prohibited word and any reference to this dangerous word in the ad or on the website of the business running the ad will result in the cancellation of the ad. The word "bud" too was a prohibited word that, if found on one's website, would result in advertising being suspended.

More recently I decided to move on to other social media and try them. I chose Pinterest and Twitter. Pinterest seemed like a reasonable fit for my product due to the claimed demographics as well as the market size they represent. Twitter is a much smaller company and probably not an ideal medium to promote but the new owner did say something about free speech being back. I decided to put both these companies to the test. I give Twitter an F- and Pinterest an F. Pinterest's grade is slightly higher because they had (as far as I could tell) a real human respond to my appeal when my ad was banned. Twitter just sent a generic letter generated by an algorithm and told me they would not be looking into my appeal. Elon Musk is a liar and is no more interested in free speech than Xi Jinping. The interaction with Pinterest did not yield a change in their ruling but it was insightful. The person responding stated the following when I requested their decision be reversed. "We do not allow the advertising of: - Products containing CBD or similar compounds. For more information please see our Drugs and Paraphernalia Policy." He put the "similar compounds" in bold and I assumed this was where he thought I belonged. I wrote back and pointed out that there are no similar compounds in a hemp oil devoid of cannabinoids and left him some links showing him that hemp oil was in fact primarily composed of linoleic and linolenic acids along with some chlorophyll. It was clear there are no similar compounds in there. He then responded to my rational argument with a reiteration of what he had said initially. Facts don't matter. Just to be sure the email thread was scrubbed of facts my initial response was deleted prior to his repeated claim that hemp oil is a "related compound". Hemp derangement syndrome must be official policy at Pinterest.

This wide spread prevalence of HDS really puzzles me. At one time it seemed to be motivated by some kind of profound ignorance of the difference between the two cultivar classes. Maybe there were plenty of people in decision making positions that really believed hemp and "weed" were one and the same. Like banning tomatoes because the leaves are poisonous. It isn't really excusable but it isn't really puzzling. We now live in a time when throughout Canada and much of the United States cannabis is legal and other drug offences are ignored by prosecutors or police at the direction of politicians or prosecutors and yet we still find the same resistance to hemp. The idea that this is motivated by a desire to keep the populace clear illegal drugs is no longer tenable. On many occasions I have seen advertisements run by Facebook for Psilocybe mushrooms. I know of at least one person who regularly promotes "gummies" this way. The idea that hemp needs to be stopped to prevent some "drug" ads from getting through simply doesn't square with their ongoing behaviour and the wider reality we find ourselves living with. Our larger cities have ever expanding tent cities with open drug use. Can we really say the widely held opposition to hemp is due to concerns our societies will become crime ridden drugscapes? There is something unspoken about hemp that keeps it constrained economically.

Hemp advocates have long spoken of the great and varied uses of hemp and its ability to threaten some industries. The list is long: Oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, the cotton industry, and the pulp and paper industry, all would lose market share if hemp was allowed to run free. As long as hemp production is constrained and products are heavily regulated then they will long remain expensive boutique alternatives to the existing cartel's products. What is a bit weird, considering the stated deep concern for CO2 levels in the atmosphere, is that this crop that could make a major contribution to the sequestering of this GHG and yet the government goes out of its way to hamstring the industry here in a country that could and should be a major producer of the crop. Canada cultivates over 62 million hectares of land for crops and only something like 32000 hectares are used for hemp, slightly over 0.05% of the farmland in this country. Canadians collectively emit around 545 million tons of CO2 annually. Hemp, absorbing more than any other crop or forest type, stores between 8 and 22 tons per hectare per season. If, instead of marginalizing the plant, we utilized even 5% of our crop land we could sequester between 25 and 68 million tons of carbon. It may not be the only method we could use to store atmospheric carbon but why suppress it? Hemp is known to grow successfully at higher altitudes and this carbon sequestering crop may not displace other, existing crops that are already pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. Banning hemp promotion and claiming to be concerned with climate change due to carbon dioxide levels are simply not compatible positions.

At this point I am not able to definitively state what motivates this antipathy to hemp and can only speculate that it is business as usual. The industries that would benefit from hemp's suppression could be lobbying our less than ethical government officials. There could be conflicts of interest from inside some of the big tech companies that are very diverse enterprises with investments in the pharmaceutical industry among others. Those invested in patented carbon sequestration technologies would not want something like hemp to make a difference before they've had a chance to profit from climate change. Of course all this pure speculation at this point since none of the players running interference against small scale hemp entrepreneurs are about to state their real motivations.


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