In­dus­trial hemp mov­ing for­ward

Ag Depart­ment, Leg­is­la­ture work to bring crop to state

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By IVY ASHE

One of Hawaii’s new­est agri­cul­tural ini­tia­tives, in­dus­trial hemp, slowly is gain­ing its foot­ing as state agen­cies lay ground­work for a longterm com­mit­ment to the crop.

Last year, on the heels of a suc­cess­ful hemp test pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Hawaii at Manoa, Act 228 cre­ated the first statewide pi­lot pro­gram for grow­ing the crop. In­dus­trial hemp is de­fined as

Cannabis sativa that has a tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol con­cen­tra­tion lower than 0.3 per­cent.

The state Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture is work­ing to ad­dress one of the main con­cerns with es­tab­lish­ing a vi­able statewide in­dus­try — namely, that there are not enough seeds in Hawaii that are suited to the cli­mate.

A re­quest for pro­pos­als to de­velop “Hawaii-ac­cli­mated” seeds was is­sued in March and closes May 5. Up to three projects will be funded at a to­tal cost of $225,000.

Ac­cord­ing to the RFP, seeds bred un­der one of th­ese projects will be­long to the state, mean­ing no roy­al­ties will be is­sued for devel­op­ment.

Shel­ley Choy of the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment said in an email to the Tribune Herald that pro­pos­als would be re­viewed by a five-per­son team and a con­tract awarded two weeks af­ter the RFP pe­riod closes.

The depart­ment also plans to host a se­ries of pub­lic

hear­ings re­gard­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive rules that will gov­ern the pi­lot pro­gram. The rules are sched­uled to go into ef­fect in July.

Begin­ning in Jan­uary 2018, grow­ers will be able to ap­ply for li­censes.

“I think there’s a hand­ful at this point who are se­ri­ous about it,” said state Sen. Rus­sell Ruderman, D-Puna. “There’s a lot of peo­ple who say, ‘Oh, I want to do hemp.’ We’ll see how many ac­tu­ally do it.”

Statewide, most dis­cus­sion of Hawaii’s hemp fu­ture to date has fo­cused on Maui, where hemp is seen as one po­ten­tial crop for former Hawai­ian Com­mer­cial & Sugar Co. land. One of the rea­sons hemp is so ap­peal­ing, Ruderman said, is be­cause it is a “tool for soil re­me­di­a­tion.”

“It may have rel­e­vance to bio­fu­els projects that may come up as well,” he said. An­other use would be as an­i­mal feed, par­tic­u­larly poul­try feed.

Ruderman co-in­tro­duced a bill in the state Leg­is­la­ture this ses­sion to cre­ate a spe­cial fund for the pi­lot pro­gram. That fund would cover two po­si­tions — pro­gram in­spec­tor and pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor — as well as ac­count for train­ing, re­search and sam­pling ini­tia­tives.

The mea­sure, Se­nate Bill 773, moved into con­fer­enc­ing this week.

In ad­di­tion to cre­at­ing the spe­cial fund, it al­lows prospec­tive hemp farmers to ap­ply for li­censes through­out the year, rather than in a spe­cific time pe­riod.

It also “clears up a lot of gray area,” Ruderman said, by re­quir­ing coun­ties to rec­og­nize hemp as an agri­cul­tural prod­uct.

“I think the era of op­po­si­tion to hemp is fi­nally over,” he said. “Peo­ple still gig­gle when you talk about it and make jokes; that’s the first thing that hap­pens. But I think the op­po­si­tion is gone … I think every­one has ac­cepted this as a le­git­i­mate crop. It’s not a way to sneak in mar­i­juana.”


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