State takes first step toward lucrative hemp industry with new research program

One small step for farmers, one giant leap for Hawaii's hemp economy
Updated: May. 30, 2018 at 5:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The possibility of a thriving industrial hemp market in Hawaii is slowly starting to take root.

Beginning in June, the state will begin issuing licenses for its first-ever industrial hemp research and cultivation program, providing research to farmers across Hawaii.

Three people, including Big Island resident Gail Byrne Baber, have already applied for the Department of Agriculture's pilot program.

"We're going to be looking at what it takes to grow a crop successfully," Byrne Baber said. "What are the inputs? What are the costs? What are the potential markets?"

Some believe that this first step into the hemp industry could prove lucrative for the state.

"The potential here in Hawaii is just enormous when you look at 25,000 different products ... made from this miracle plant," said state Sen. Mike Gabbard (D-Kapolei, Makakilo, Ewa).

The state will initially provide licensed growers with imported hemp seeds for a fiber-grain varietal. A cannabidiol varietal that can be used to produce CBD oil — a trendy health product — is expected to be available this fall.

"I think CBD hemp oil, if you just look at what the demands are in the marketplace, it's very lucrative," said Byrne Baber. "I think it would be a smart component of any farm plan, but we want to prove the fiber opportunities (and) the seed opportunities as well."

Industrial hemp and marijuana are not the same, although they are members of the same plant species. Gabbard says the difference between the two has caused some confusion even among his own colleagues.

"So I explained to them the THC content," Gabbard said. "(Industrial hemp) has 0.3 percent versus 10 to 30 percent in marijuana, you cannot get high on hemp."

Growers are allowed to sell the hemp they grow as part of the program, but will be required to submit reports on planting, harvesting and the movement of the products.

Routine testing for THC and pesticides will also be mandatory.

"It's going to help our farmers," Gabbard said. "It's going to help our economy."

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