Manitoba hemp processors are front and centre in Edmonton this week as the industry meets to celebrate its success and discuss how to help hemp products blossom on world markets.
While the "industry" is still in its infancy, it's safe to say it would not exist were it not for Winnipeg's Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods & Oils, the largest vertically integrated hemp food manufacturer in the world.
Mike Fata's 15-year-old company makes hemp snack food, proteins, oils and beverages.
It contracts for about 60 per cent of the 50,000 acres of hemp grown in Canada that's split evenly across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Manitoba Harvest, along with Hemp Oil Canada in Ste. Agathe, represent the entire hemp-processing industry in North America.
"Our hard work is paying off and the success we're having in Safeway, Costco, Superstore and London Drugs and all these major retail stores that are promoting the product... it is not just a health food store kind of industry anymore," Fata said.
Canada's small hemp industry may be growing like a weed, but still faces some hurdles because of its illegal and potent cousin, marijuana.
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.
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.
-- with files from The Canadian Press