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Ontario entrepreneur eyes opportunities with hemp compound CBD

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Mike Hodgson sees a green rush coming. But unlike most entrepreneurs flocking to cash in on Canada’s recreational marijuana market, Hodgson is going down a different path.

The Londoner is opening a plant in St. Thomas to extract cannabidiol (CBD), a component that doesn’t get you high, from hemp plants.

Hodgson, president of GreenLeaf Productions, sees massive potential in CBD, a compound being touted for its potential to treat everything from anxiety and seizures to inflammation and pain. He’s in the process of converting a former tool-and-dye plant on Barrie Boulevard into a 12,000-square-foot extraction facility.

The federal government’s move to end its 95-year prohibition on marijuana last month also allowed hemp farmers to begin selling the flowers from their plants to be processed for CBD oil, a move welcomed by the hemp industry.

But Canada’s hemp farmers still face a hurdle that their counterparts south of the border don’t have to deal with, Hodgson said.

Canadian hemp farmers are allowed to choose from fewer than 20 strains of the plant, all of which have low concentrations of CBD, typically between 1.5 and four per cent. Americans hemp growers, however, can choose from a wider selection of strains, some of them containing up to 20 per cent CBD.

Hodgson wants the government to allow Canada’s hemp growers to plant strains with more CBD. “If Canada doesn’t loosen up those strains, I think that the Americans will take the whole CBD market in North America,” he said. “They’ll be a powerhouse internationally, too.”

The American CBD market is expected to grow to $2.1 billion, up from $202 million in 2015, according to the Hemp Business Journal.

Canada is among the top hemp producers in the world — around 55,000 hectares of the crop is farmed annually — with the bulk of the operations concentrated in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Hemp is also produced in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

A variety of the cannabis plant, hemp must have less than 0.3 per cent THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana that give users a euphoric feeling. Hemp fibres and stalks are used in everything from clothing and construction materials to paper and plastic composites. The seeds are used to make things like cosmetics, paint, granola and cereal.

After Hodgson’s plant opens in the spring, he plans to sell CBD oil to licensed marijuana producers and work with micro-growers on extraction, but he ultimately wants to make CBD-infused edibles and partner with beverage companies, many of which are thirsty to get into the emerging market.

“We’re looking at being able to modify or do what they require of the CBD,” he said. In September, a World Health Organization committee on drug dependence released preliminary findings on its reviews of cannabis-related substances that are currently subject to international control. It concluded that CBD shouldn’t be placed under international drug control because it doesn’t have any psychoactive properties, or potential for abuse or dependence. However, the international agency stopped short of endorsing CBD for medicinal use, citing the lack of research showing its benefits.

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