It’s time to fully exploit hemp production

Honolulu Star Advertiser - July 17, 2016
Mike Gabbard, Doug Fine and Denise Key

On July 7, Gov. David Ige signed into law what might prove to be the most important piece of economic legislation in the past 50 years. Hawaii now enjoys the best hemp law in the nation.

We who have been active in bringing back hemp to agriculture believe that generations will still be saying mahalo to those who worked, some for decades, to get this law passed. Now it’s time to implement it.

The hemp industry is growing 1,000 percent per year in the U.S., despite the “research only” provision for hemp in federal law. No place is more ready to lead hemp’s resurgence than the Aloha State. Our year-round cultivation climate, small farmer infrastructure, and bottom line need for a regenerative agriculture economy means we have all the pieces of the puzzle.

And what does the finished puzzle look like? If we properly implement hemp into the islands’ soil and finished products, we can move steadily toward food, energy and even industrial independence. Soon we will be printing homes and cars on the island from 3D printers using Hawaii-grown hemp composites and glues.

How do we get there? Thanks to recent friendly federal legislation, individual farmers who are part of state hemp programs are allowed to cultivate for any purpose, in any acreage amount. Farmers are even allowed to market (that is, to sell) the crop as part of the industry’s research.

The federal government has had no problem with these policies: hemp has tremendous support on the federal level, thanks in no small part to co-sponsorship of S. 134 and H.R. 525, which calls for full commercial hemp legalization, by U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, and U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Mark Takai.

There is no need for caution. With full commercial legalization around the corner and an industry that today nets a billion dollars annually for Canada, it is imperative that we establish the broadest regulations for our nascent hemp industry so that we are on the leading edge when the industry breaks out. After all, on a level playing field, who can compete with the Hawaii Hemp Brand?

If we allow our farmers, processors and entrepreneurs to launch the industry with the properly wide trajectory, we are setting the stage for a small farmer renaissance, a lucrative cottage industry and a leading nanotechnology research center. Research shows hemp provides the best fiber for clean, powerful next-generation batteries.

Most of all, hemp’s return is a key step toward Hawaii’s food and energy independence. The seed provides a superfood for humans and livestock, the fiber builds homes and provides energy, and the flower market is a fast-growing nutraceutical industry in itself.

To concerns that it is costly to administer a hemp program because of the current need to test hemp crops (for THC levels), we point out two things:

>> Vermont, a state without a large budget, allows an unlimited (and fast-growing) number of hemp farmers with a comparable registration fee structure to ours. This includes all fees including testing. It’s not too burdensome. If they can do it, we can.

There is no need to restrict project applications (some states do, some don’t, soon none will): The more Hawaii hemp farmers, the better, from Year 1.

>> Even a half-million-dollar budget is small change for the billions that are going to come from the hemp economy in Hawaii. Any effort we put toward nurturing hemp is money and time well spent.

The crop is a key part of Hawaii’s future.