EDMONTON - Canada's small hemp industry is growing like a weed, but still faces some hurdles because of its illegal and potent cousin, marijuana.
This week, farmers, scientists, health food experts, retailers and fashion designers are meeting in Edmonton to celebrate hemp and discuss how to help products derived from the plant to blossom on world markets.
Kim Shukla, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trading Alliance, says production in this country is forecast to almost double by 2015.
"That will translate to about $100 million to the Canadian economy," she said from her farm near Steinbach, Man. "Saskatchewan is by far the leading province, followed by Manitoba and Alberta."
Both hemp and marijuana stem from the Cannabis sativa plant family, but hemp contains virtually none of the elements of the THC compound found in marijuana that makes people high.
The 200 or so growers across the country are all licensed by Health Canada and can only plant seeds that have been approved by the federal government.
Canadian hemp growers are more interested in filling food bowls than bong bowls.
Hemp is filled with nutritious Omega 3 and 6 and is used to make breakfast cereals, pretzels, protein powders, salad dressings and lactose-free milk.
Fibre from the hardy plant is made into building products, paper and clothes. Hemp oil is used to make cosmetics.
Shukla said Canada's main market for hemp products is the United States, where the federal government has been leery of approving cultivation of the plant because it looks similar to marijuana.
But U.S. officials have no problem with Canadian-grown hemp products. Demand for health food and other products derived from the plant is high.
"Everyone is much more conscious about their health," she said. "That is a market that hasn't even nearly reached what the potential is."
The hemp business is downright respectable in Canada.
Alberta's agriculture minister is to open the convention and trade show today and the federal government plans to make a funding announcement in support of Canada's growers.