History Of Hemp Cultivation In Canada

CBD Cannabis Hemp Field in Oregon USA. Source: Shutterstock

The early European settlers of Canada introduced Cannabis plants in Canada’s New France or Nova Scotia Province. And since it was a cash crop that was encouraged and sometimes even coaxed by authorities to drive up economic growth. 

Exploring Canadian history

Paleo-Indians are regarded as indigenous people who lived in the vast expanse of Canada. They are also known as Indians, Eskimos, or collectively known as Aboriginals. In medieval times when European explorations brought ships to the shores of North America, battles were fought to colonize and annex the lands. From the early 15th Century French and British fought many battles to expand their empire and colonize lands that are part of present-day provinces in Canada

Introduction of cannabis in Canada

Cannabis helped shape the early economic growth of the country when it was introduced in the country by European settlers. Cannabis plants were grown to meet the demand for hemp fiber.

The hemp trade was pivotal for political power games and had a substantial influence on economic growth. Cannabis was also the reason for the gray area in Canadian history surrounded by controversies and power hunger game theories. 

Europe was using hemp even before the annexation and colonial spread of France and Britain in Canada. But unlike their Asian counterparts who used hemp for nutrient value and medicinal properties, Europeans used it only for fiber to make paper and fabric. France accounted for the highest production of hemp textiles and still is one of the largest markets for hemp fashion. 

Hemp plants, because of their natural resilience and ability to grow in most soil types with less water than other popular plant-based fabrics like cotton, soon replaced other options to make sails for ships, and dress a large number of cavalrymen in uniforms. 

The plant was introduced in Canada by a French botanist Louis Hebert in 1606. His knowledge about herbs and wellness plants was abundant and resourceful to the region of present-day Nova Scotia province earlier known as New France. He settled with his family and was a friend of the explorer, Samuel Champlain.

Rising demand from European countries

With most European countries like Britain, France, Spain, Dutch, and Portugal vying with each other to expand their empirical colonies in the world, what they required back then was a constant supply of hemp fabric that can be used as ropes to anchor big ships, huge sails, and fabric for military uniforms. 

Canada’s hemp industry genesis

When the demand from European countries was exacerbated by the burgeoning need to mast their sails for ships and dress their men in uniforms, the monarchs of Europe tried to spread the use and cultivation of hemp in their colonies. Early settlers were incentivized to promote and cultivate hemp in their lands. 

Before the onset of the 17th century, South American European colonies like Chile were already cultivating cannabis for Spain. Britain looked for its cannabis supply from New England and France was willing to buy any amount of cannabis grown by Canadian farmers. 

Farmers and settlers were lured by the local authorities and the French government of New France to grow cannabis as a cash crop. If farmers failed to grow cannabis and intended to grow food crops, they were punished by direct and indirect methods. 

Later When Britain annexed Canada in 1763, compelling efforts to influence farmers to grow cannabis were underway. Shiploads of Russian cannabis seeds were imported and distributed for free to Canadian farmers. Still, they were not moved by the idea as the process of retting and removing the cellulose was a labor-intensive job. In 1802 farmers were appointed to high-profile positions on a hemp board formed to improve cultivation practices. It took another two decades before hemp was accepted by Canadian farmers as a source of income. 

Hemp in Canada in the 20th Century

Modern history revised the status of hemp from a cash crop to an illegal crop in a matter of a few decades not just in Canada but almost all over the world. What started as an attempt by the US to stop the influence of substance abuse through widespread illegal traders of marijuana ended up spreading to the commercial cultivation of hemp. The dominion effect of the repercussions affected commercial cannabis cultivation. 

Between 1937-1970 there were many changes made to the tax laws through Marijuana Act in the US. This action determined a spiraling effect in Canada’s hemp market till the advocacy to legalize hemp was started in 1990 through proactive activism. Trials were conducted to show that hemp had a low content of THC and did not possess any element that had psychoactive elements concentration. In short, the consumption of hemp will not get anyone stoned. 

After a few years of continuous activism to prove hemp as the innocent cousin of marijuana and the positive benefits of legalizing hemp for its beneficial use, in 1998 hemp was allowed as a legal crop that can be grown without initiating a federal offense.

Years after the ban

As iterated with the re-legalization of hemp the industry was born again in Canada. But the cause for which the advocacy battles were fought is far from achieved. For instance, farmers who introduced the crop and cultivated in hectares are still looking for someone to buy the bales that are still lying on the agricultural lands. 

Farmers who were enthusiastic enough to introduce hemp in their cultivation were left without choices when the companies that partnered with them for business did not pay them for the crop. However, after teething troubles, the industry is once again looking up and hopes to scale the lost glory with the right policy framework and support from chambers of trade. 


The history of hemp is more spectacular than its economic prowess. It is one of the most cultivated plants in ancient history. If the universal ban was not affected, the utility of hemp would have not allowed the widespread use of single-use polymers and plastics that have deteriorated the environment in innumerable ways. Getting hemp back into daily use can help reverse such adverse impacts to an extent. 

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