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DEA recently approved the Seed Importation Permit, so the Project can continue

Posted on September 1, 2000

The good news is: Industrial hemp grows quickly and can be cultivated year-round in Hawaii.

The bad news is: Hawaii’s fledgling industrial hemp research may soon be stymied by a lack of seed sources, since importation of hemp seeds is illegal under federal law.

The news was supplied by agricultural researcher Dr. David West during the first annual Industrial Hemp Field Day, held at the secured research site in Wahiawa on Sept. 5. During the event, West presented the results of nine months of study into the growth patterns of industrial hemp in Hawaii.

In December 1999, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to legally plant industrial hemp in nearly 50 years due to the passage of Act 305. Spearheaded by Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R-Dist. 49), the law authorizes research to develop industrial hemp varieties appropriate for Hawaii. Several supportive legislators, hemp product vendors and media were among those who attended the field day.

Hemp cultivation is illegal in the United States because current laws make no distinction between hemp and its illegal cousin, marijuana. Hemp proponents argue that hemp does not contain the same psychoactive properties as marijuana, making hemp useless as a recreational drug. Hemp cultivation is legal in Canada and most of Europe, and proponents say the United States is falling behind in developing its hemp industry. Hemp seed and fiber from the stalks have more than 25,000 manufacturing uses including paper, textiles, building materials, car parts and oil.

A Quick Study

West said industrial hemp matures very rapidly in Hawaii. Since Hawaii’s latitude gives it relatively long periods of darkness compared with more northern or southern latitudes, the plant matures and flowers in only about two months and produces numerous seeds, he said. “In two to three months, this crop is giving one of the most nutritious seeds known to man,” he said.

With properties similar to flax, the seeds can be eaten as healthful snacks or used as bird food. In fact, birds feeding on the seeds have been a challenge in growing the research crops. Slugs have also posed minor problems but are easily controlled, West said.

Since the plant matures rapidly in Hawaii, it does not grow as tall as it does in other latitudes, where it can reach over 15 feet in height. The Hawaii plants in the research plot were mature at less than 5 feet tall. However, in Hawaii, hemp can be planted close together and harvested five times a year for numerous production benefits, he said.

“Because they will stay short, more plants can be jammed in an area of land. And by doing so, we preserve the ability of hemp to out-compete most weeds and progressively clean up fields,” West said.

This ability of hemp to environmentally “clean up” contaminated soils is being studied at the same site by Dan Paquin from the University of Hawaii’s Department of Biosystems Engineering. Paquin said hemp’s phytoremediative properties could someday be used to remove contaminants from agricultural soils throughout Hawaii.

Numerous products made from hemp were on display at the research site, including soap, shampoo, roofing shingles, seed snacks, aloha shirts, purses and decorative items.

West said Hawaii’s research project may come to an end if the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) doesn’t relax restrictions which make hemp seed importation illegal. His current supply of seeds is running low, he said.

The DEA and law enforcement representatives have argued against legalizing hemp, fearing that hemp fields could be used to hide marijuana. However, West pointed out that hiding marijuana among hemp could severely affect the quality of each crop, since the plants could cross-pollinate.

No farmer, legal or otherwise, wants to see that happen.