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Hemp Seen as Valid Hawaii Crop

Posted on July 1, 2000

Hemp farming could become a reality in Hawaii

Hawaii agricultural interests and legislators including State Representative Cynthia Thielen (R-Kailua/Kaneohe Bay Drive), are studying the possibility of planting research plots of industrial hemp in Hawaii.

Thielen said she supports the cultivation of industrial hemp because of its many commercial uses and its potentially positive economic impact on Hawaii agriculture. “There are at least two major agricultural corporations interested in hemp in Hawaii,” she said. The companies do not yet want to be identified because of the “so-called stigma” that links hemp to marijuana, Thielen said.

Industrial hemp is defined by the Industrial Hemp Regulations of Canada’s Controlled Drug and Substance Act as the plants and plant parts of the cannabis plant whose leaves and flowering heads do not contain more than 0.3 percent THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the ingredient that produces the psychoactive effect when the plant is ingested or smoked. Hemp should not be confused with marijuana, which contains higher levels of THC.

“Leading scientists have confirmed that it is impossible to get “high” from industrial hemp,” Thielen said.

She said the research plots will be legal and will enable agronomists to study different varieties of hemp to see which types grow best in Hawaii.

“We do not need to change the state law to plant research test plots. I am working with some agricultural corporations to obtain the necessary state and federal permits. The agronomic research to develop varieties appropriate for our latitude may take a few years. By that time, the federal ban on industrial hemp should be lifted and Hawaii farmers will be able to grow it,” she said.

The United States has fallen behind other industrialized nations in its refusal to legalize hemp cultivation. Hemp is grown legally in 35 countries including England, France, Canada, Spain, China, India, and satellite nations of the former Soviet Union, according to the Hawaiian Industrial Hemp Report.

Canada, which had originally followed the United States in banning industrial hemp, changed legislation earlier this year to permit commercial cultivation of the plant. Since then, Canadian farmers have enthusiastically embraced the crop and have established an active Internet exchange of growing tips and seed supply sources.

Numerous companies including large carpeting companies have supported the farmers’ efforts. “A lot of the farmers have sold their crop before they planted it,” Thielen said.

According to an article in The New York Times, a group of U.S. mainland farmers and trade organizations sued the federal government in May to make hemp legal again. The farmers argue that since products made from hemp are legal, the crop should be too. They also claim that chemical distinctions between hemp and marijuana should be recognized.

Hemp cultivation was widespread in the United States in the early part of the century and during World War II, when the government urged farmers to grow “Hemp for Victory.” It was made illegal by the Controlled Substances Act of 1972, which makes no distinction between hemp and marijuana because they both contain THC.

Although the Landscape Industry Council of Hawaii has not taken an official position on the legalization of industrial hemp, LICH president John Wilkinson said the proposal merits further study.

“I was personally able to review a hemp operation in Louisiana in 1996. I was totally amazed at the progress that this farm had done to prove the viability of this superior product along with the economies of scale of production. It is absolutely ideal for Hawaii. As for its THC content it was well known that this variety was worthless to the drug user by the whole community,” Wilkinson said.

Landscape applications of hemp products include 100 percent hemp matting for erosion control and weed elimination — an all-natural, biodegradable alternative to plastic matting. Thielen said this matting could be useful in the restoration of the island of Kahoolawe, which has suffered serious erosion problems.

Three main raw materials are produced from industrial hemp — bast fiber, hurds, and seed. Different combinations of these materials create a variety of uses.

“There are over 25,000 commercial and industrial uses of this crop, including automobile parts, animal and human food, fabrics, paper, body oils, industrial lubricants, building materials and carpets. A line of 100 percent hemp particle board, which is termite impervious, is being used by building industries along with other building materials,” Thielen said.

Hemp could have enormous economic potential in Hawaii, according to Thielen. “We could grow some of our own building materials,” she said.

Because of the islands’ year-long growing season, Hawaii could produce two to three crops of industrial hemp per year, versus the one crop per year most other countries are able to produce, she said.

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