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Hawaii Experimenting with Hemp as Crop

Posted on December 26, 1999

By Bruce Dunford, Associated Press

Wahiawa, Hawaii — The DEA, which outlined the security measures needed to plant what federal and state law still defines as illegal marijuana, is no longer blocking the project, said state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, an Oahu Republican, who sponsored the bill creating the university research project.

State is first to launch test on plant’s viability.

Surrounded by a 12-foot-high fence and infrared surveillance, a university scientist scattered the first seeds in an experiment that will test the viability of industrial hemp as an agricultural resource for the state.

“Pineapple and sugar, the double roof of our economy for generations, have now grown old,” House Speaker Calvin Say, an Oahu Democrat, said as a quarter-acre plot in central Oahu was planted.

“Perhaps in time, we can lead the way in industrial hemp technology in the same way our technological ability in sugar and pineapple were unsurpassed anywhere on this Earth.”

Because hemp belongs to the same family as marijuana, it has been illegal to grow in the United States since World War II. While some states have moved to allow hemp growing, Hawaii is among the first to get a test project going.

Hemp stalk fibers can be used to make clothing, shoes, building materials, strong cords and ropes, a substitute for fiberglass, paper “and the list goes on,” University of Hawaii plant geneticist David West said.

Hemp seed oil contains essential fatty acids, protein and other vital elements, and it is a base for skin and hair care products, said Mr. West, who will oversee the research.

Hemp production in the United States ended in 1958, and the National Seed Storage Laboratory, charged with preserving important genetic resources, allowed all the seeds to die, Mr. West said.

The research project—which received $200,000 from Alterna, a hair-care company that uses hemp seeds in products—will try to develop the most productive hemp plant for Hawaii’s climate, he said.

The project also involves testing various varieties of hemp for their levels of THC—the hallucinogenic found in marijuana.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy previously held that allowing hemp farming would send the wrong signal to young people and would allow marijuana farmers to hide their crops with industrial hemp plants.

The DEA, which outlined the security measures needed to plant what federal and state law still defines as illegal marijuana, is no longer blocking the project, said state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, an Oahu Republican, who sponsored the bill creating the university research project.

Shannan Thielen holds a shirt made from hemp. Researchers in Hawaii recently planted hemp seeds to test the product’s viability as an agricultural resource. The plant’s parts can be used to make everything from clothing to paper to skin-and hair-care products.

Copyright © 1999, The Dallas Morning News. All rights reserved.