The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) prohibits certain activities with controlled substances. Regulations under the CDSA, such as the Industrial Hemp Regulations (IHR), authorize certain activities with specific controlled substances.

More specifically, Cannabis is a controlled substance under the CDSA. Possession, trafficking, import, export and production of all varieties of Cannabis regardless of the tetrahydrocannabinol (tetrahydro-6,6,9-trimethyl-3-pentyl-6H-dibenzo[b,d]pyran-1-ol) content are prohibited unless authorized according to regulations or an exemption. The Industrial Hemp Regulations enable persons/companies to cultivate and process industrial hemp for commercial purposes through a licensing system.

The Industrial Hemp Regulation Program permits Canadian farmers to grow low-TCH cannabis for industrial use, under controlled circumstances. This program administers the regulatory approval process for the commercial production of industrial hemp. It is comprised of a system of licences, permits and authorizations for all persons in Canada engaged in the cultivation, distribution, importation, exportation, and processing of industrial hemp. The program started on March 12, 1998, when the Industrial Hemp Regulations came into effect.

In the Industrial Hemp Regulations, industrial hemp includes Cannabis plants and plant parts, of any variety, that contains 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or less in the leaves and flowering heads.

Industrial hemp also includes the derivatives of industrial hemp plants and plant parts. These do not include the flowering parts or the leaves.

Examples of derivatives that are considered industrial hemp include: hemp seed oil (oil derived from seed or grain) and hemp flour.

Industrial hemp does not include:

Non-viable Cannabis seeds, except for their derivatives. While the derivatives of non-viable Cannabis seeds are considered to be industrial hemp, the non-viable seeds themselves are not industrial hemp;
Mature Cannabis stalks, when those stalks are stripped of their leaves, flowers, seeds, and branches;
Fiber derived from such mature Cannabis stalks.
Most activities with non-viable cannabis seeds, with bare mature cannabis stalks (without leaves, flowers, seeds, and branches), and with fiber derived from bare mature cannabis stalks, are not controlled under the CDSA. As such, they do not require authorization.

Cultivating, propagating and/or harvesting industrial hemp are included in production.

Industrial hemp production includes obtaining industrial hemp - e.g. viable grain or seed or their derivatives - by any method or process, including manufacturing or using any means to change the chemical or physical properties of industrial hemp and including also cultivating, propagating or harvesting industrial hemp.

Industrial hemp production is an activity that is authorized by a licence issued under the IHR, subject to the terms of the licence and to the regulations.

However, it is important to note that the production of derivatives or products made from whole industrial hemp plants, including sprouts, or the leaves, flowers or bracts of those plants, cannot be authorized by a licence issued under the IHR. Most activities with whole industrial hemp plants, including sprouts, or with the leaves, flowers or bracts of the plant, fall outside of the application of the IHR. These activities are controlled under the CDSA and are not authorized under the IHR.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was increased interest in the cultivation of industrial hemp as a potential source of new jobs in the agricultural and industrial sectors. As well, there was an increased need to develop alternative sources of fibre. Research conducted between 1994 and 1998 showed it could be successfully grown in Canada as a separate entity from cannabis (marijuana). With the demand and encouraging research findings, Health Canada chose to give the agricultural and industrial sectors the opportunity to grow and exploit industrial hemp in a controlled fashion. Laws were amended to allow for the cultivation of industrial hemp.

Although the growth of industrial hemp crops was previously permitted for scientific research purposes, the first licence to grow industrial hemp for commercial purposes was issued in May 1998.

Fibre from stalks can be used in making paper, textiles, rope or twine, and construction materials. Grain from industrial hemp can be used in food products, cosmetics, plastics and fuel.

In other countries, industrial hemp has proven to be a hardy, fast growing, resilient and high yield crop. In Canada, industrial hemp has shown good potential as an alternative to be included in rotation with other, more traditional crops. Its short growth period of 85-120 days makes it well suited for cultivation in many parts of Canada. If planted at the proper time, it reportedly suppresses most weeds. Insect and disease problems must be managed like any other crop.

To get an overview of the Industrial Hemp Program and its progress in Canada, visit the page called Statistics, Reports & Fact Sheets on Hemp. It has up to date reports and fact sheets on the program and its activities.

Licences expire in the calendar year in which they are issued. For cultivators, it is recommended that you submit your application for a cultivation licence 5 to 6 months prior to the growing season. You may apply for a licence as early as mid-November for the next growing season. To help ensure that applications are processed in a timely manner, please ensure that all of the required information is provided.

You can download most of the documentation you require from this website, or obtain copies from Health Canada's Regional Offices or the Office of Controlled Substances. Look under the Contact section of this website for the contact information of the Industrial Hemp Regulation Program.

A licence issued under the IHR specifies the activities that are permitted by that licence, subject to the requirements of the IHR and to specific exclusions (see "What activities are not permitted under the IHR?"). These activities could include:

Import or export of industrial hemp. Note that in addition to the licence, importers and exporters need a permit for each shipment of hemp that they import or export. Other customs documentation may be required;
Production of industrial hemp;
Sale or provision of industrial hemp.
A person who holds a licence is also permitted to engage in additional activities - possess, transport, send, deliver, and (if the licence permits sale or provision) offer to sell or to provide - with industrial hemp, to the extent necessary to conduct a licensed activity.

A person who does not hold a licence may possess, transport, send or deliver industrial hemp, or offer to do so, if they hold the appropriate authorization issued under the IHR.

Mature industrial hemp stalks, when the leaves, flowers, seeds and branches are removed, are excluded from the CDSA. The fibers derived from those stalks are also excluded from the CDSA. This means that such stalks and fiber can be imported, sold, possessed, or used to make products, such as rope or fabric, without a licence, permit, or other authorization.

The IHR do not apply to certain activities with industrial hemp. These activities are controlled under the CDSA and are not authorized under the IHR. These activities are:

Certain activities with whole industrial hemp plants, including sprouts, or the leaves, flowers or bracts of those plants. These activities are: importation, exportation, sale or provision;
Certain activities with any derivative or product made from whole industrial hemp plants, including sprouts, or the leaves, flowers or bracts of those plants. The activities are: importation, exportation, sale, provision or production;
Certain activities with any derivative of seed, viable grain or non-viable Cannabis seed, or product made from that derivative, if the derivative or product contains more than 10 microgram/gram THC. The activities are: importation, exportation, sale or provision.
Other restrictions on permitted activities are specified in the IHR and in each licence.