State lawmaker pushes hemp as cash crop for Hawaii

State lawmaker pushes hemp as cash crop for Hawaii

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A provision in the federal Farm Bill just passed by Congress allows for industrial hemp to be legally grown across the U.S. for research purposes.

"Without any DEA permit, without any restrictions," state Rep. Cynthia Thielen said. "It can be grown under a university research project or under the state departments of agriculture."

Thielen hopes that leads to hemp farming in Hawaii. She is behind a bill that would authorize the University of Hawaii to conduct a two-year study. It would grow hemp and explore its uses as a soil cleaner and biofuel.

"If it has the capability to be used for biofuels you're talking airplane industry, trucking industry, motorists," Thielen said.

UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources would do the research under the leadership of professor Harry Ako.

"You have to mess around with growing it a little bit. You have to grow the correct variety that will survive our tropical environment," he said.

Ako believes hemp could be grown on land now considered off limits. Hawaii has six areas the federal EPA lists as contaminated -- four on Oahu, one on the Big Island and one on Maui.

"That land is not useable anymore. If you grow something in that land it'll become poisonous," Ako said.

According to Thielen, growing hemp on those sites could cleanse the soil of toxins.

"They're actually using it in Chernobyl to clean up the atomic wastes from that explosion in Russia," she said.

Industrial hemp is in the same plant family as marijuana, but it can't get you high like pot. The U.S. has only been able to import goods containing hemp, not manufacture them. It's used in products from handbags, to body washes to building materials.

"Hemp has at least 25,000 uses. It's an entrepreneur's dream," Thielen said.

She has been advocating hemp cultivation in Hawaii for fifteen years. Ten states have passed laws to grow the plant for research. It could be the first step to growing it for revenue.

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