Industrial hemp moving forward
Ag Department, Legislature work to bring crop to state
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.”