Industrial hemp entrepreneur wants to set record straight over Grimsby facility

An application for a hemp-processing plant in Grimsby may have hit a setback, but that hasn’t deterred entrepreneur Akeem Gardner from spreading the word about the benefits of industrial hemp.

At the Dec. 20 committee of adjustment meeting, an application was reviewed for a minor variance for a hemp-processing facility on Kemp Road.

The meeting was heated, with two-and-a-half hours of debate from 36 delegates, and a petition opposing the plan had 52 signatures by the start of the meeting.

The facility would allow Canurta, Gardner's company, to process industrial hemp and other crops to extract polyphenols, which could create various health products, such as hemp seed powder and hemp extract.

Grimsby town planning staff weren’t opposed to the minor variance so long as there was no growing of hemp, processing of hemp leaves or growing or processing of cannabis or cannabis-related products. Staff also required site-plan approval to be obtained prior to construction.

In the end, the application was denied, as it was decided that the variance doesn’t meet the intent of the zoning bylaw and official plan, the development was not desirable for the subject land, and it was not minor in nature.

Delegates at the meeting had many concerns, ranging from the potential for an odour to come from the plant, sewage and water, truck traffic and the fact that construction had already started.

“I’ve worked in the greenhouse business, I’ve worked with marijuana growers … and hemp is marijuana, just a different type. There’s a lot of odour that comes with it. There’s no natural way to get rid of those odours,” said Gord Van Egmond, one of the delegates.

But that hasn’t deterred Gardner, founder and CEO of Canurta, from giving up just yet. He wants to win the community around by educating them about the benefits of industrial hemp and other polyphenol-rich plants that the facility would have processed.

“I can very much understand how the neighbours were thrown off and what they assume,” he said. “And now this time to set the record straight.”

One of the hurdles is to hammer home the distinction between industrial hemp and psychoactive marijuana. Both are forms of the cannabis plant, but have very different uses, said Gardner.

The former, and the focus of the operation, is regulated by the Industrial Hemp Regulation 1998 (IHR). Crucially, it has less than 0.03 per cent of THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. It has a woody core and is harvested for its fibres and seeds, which have nutritional and practical purposes.

Gardner, an industrial hemp farmer, concedes that hemp does have a smell, but he describes it as pleasant and citrusy and said that he never had a complaint about prior industrial hemp farms he has worked on.

In any case, the conditions stipulated by planning staff mean that he can’t grow hemp on site, so the odour would not be an issue.

Gardner sees hemp as a vital source of polyphenols with a high nutritional and medical value. He wants to farm and process it to create jobs and value for Ontario farmers. He sees industrial hemp as a great carbon sequester and soil remediator, and his business aims to be carbon negative.

A 2022 study, by Dante F. Placido and Charles C. Lee in the journal Plants (Basel), stated that hemp was successfully used to repair agricultural soil in the areas surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Thanks to the IHR and the forward-thinking of the federal government regarding industrial hemp, Gardner believes that Canada is in a prime position to lead the world on industrial hemp production. He wants Grimsbonians to be part of that.

“Canada has given us this amazing gift in legalizing first,” he said.

“It gives me that extra strength to push through and to take the beatings. Because I'm like, ‘don't worry, one day, you're going to thank me.’”

ALBERTA LEADING THE WAY ON HEMP

Since the passing of the IHR in 1998, Canada’s hemp industry has blossomed, but other provinces are leading the race.

Alberta is Canada’s largest producer of the crop, with 8,291 hectares of industrial hemp being cultivated in 2021, according to data from Health Canada. That represents 42 per cent of Canada’s hemp hectarage. Ontario represents 2.6 per cent.

In 2021, the federal government partnered with the province of Alberta to invest $900,000 into the province’s hemp industry.

“Alberta's growing hemp industry is helping to build a strong agriculture sector that creates jobs and brings tremendous opportunities to communities across the province,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, at the time.

Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News