“’ere, you know that Laughing Cavalier painting. Why is he laughing? Is he on something?” To which the answer is, yes, he’s on cannabis. Cannabis sativa, marijuana, is also hemp and hemp fibre used to be used to make the material painter’s used for their work. The word ‘canvas’ is derived from the Dutch ‘canefas’ meaning made of cannabis.
A small comment in a story from Russia set me thinking about the other uses of the cannabis plant.
As part of the refurbishment of a metro station in Moscow the authorities purchased some additional land and to give an area of grass which they set out to grow from seed. What came up, however, was described as a ‘field of wild cannabis’. This report from Russia Today includes a short video clip and the newsreader is clearly amused by the story.
The Federal Drug Control Service said its officers dug out 230 plants from the patch of grass and they are now trying to find out who supplied the seed. You can see the similarity between Russia and the UK from the Telegraph’s report which says an MP is demanding a full enquiry into this misuse of public funds. It just shows that it is not just the UK that has ambitious MPs anxious to gain publicity for themselves by exploiting public ignorance.
SSome of the reports note that Cannabis sativa will grow wild in parts of Russia – ‘That’s why they call it weed’ as someone once told me so it seems likely that this incident was the result of some poorly collected grass seed rather than anything more sinister.
But it was the final paragraph of the Telegraph’s account that interested me. This says that Russian scientists are ‘developing new forms’ of cannabis to have low THC levels so that it can be grown just for the hemp fibre.
I wouldn’t want to ask the Telegraph for the research it did to find that information because I don’t suppose it amounts to very much. Low THC varieties of cannabis have been around for a long time so any current research is about improvement not discovery.
Back in my Alnwick Garden days, that is several years ago, there was an exhibition about various sustainable and alternative crops that included information about growing hemp in the UK. It is so longer ago that I can’t find the leaflet I took away but I recall the regime required inspection by DEFRA officials prior to harvesting to ensure that no high THC varieties were being grown amongst the allowed crop and it was a requirement to harvest the crop before full maturity as a further means of ensuring no illicit substance could be produced.
Both the licencing regime and the inability to fully develop the fibre drop negated almost all the cost advantages of growing cannabis for fibre and, at the time, very little was being grown.
As it was some years ago, I did a quick search to see if common sense had prevailed since then but, it seems, things have gone backward not forward. The Home office introduced licencing procedures for industrial hemp growers in 2009 and, in 2010, large fees for obtaining a licence were introduced without consultation.1
The regulatory regime is so complex that most growers rely on making use of a licence obtained by the producer of the hemp products. This means the grower is completely tied to the buyer of his crops, not an ideal situation for market development.
The NFU story quotes Hemptechnology, as saying it expects a large increase in cultivation in spite of the tight regulation. How much greater could that production be if only common sense were applied to the control regime for cannabis grown for fibre?
1.NFU backs hemp processor move to save growers unnecessary licence fee costs NFU online 23 December 2010