LIHUE — When the U.S. Department of Agriculture comes out with administrative rules governing the cultivation of hemp, expect Hawaii to submit a state plan, said Micah Munekata, legislative coordinator, state Department of Agriculture.
“We’re not necessarily looking to go beyond federal guidelines,” he said during a recent presentation.
Earlier this year, Gov. David Ige vetoed Senate Bill 1353, which would have relaxed state restrictions on growing hemp in Hawaii.
“There are concerns that this bill creates a licensing structure that cannot be enforced, will not meet USDA requirements for an approved industrial hemp program, and creates practical problems in the enforcement of existing medical cannabis,” the governor’s office stated.
That veto wasn’t a bad thing, Munekata said.
“In hindsight, that’s a good move for us,” he said.
He said a state draft plan is in the works, “so when federal guidelines come down, we can mirror them,” he said, adding the state is looking to get things up and rolling in 2020.
“We’re trying our best to move as fast as we can at the state level,” Munekata said to about 40 people at the Lihue Business Association meeting Thursday at Duke’s Canoe Club at the Kauai Marriott Resort &Beach Club.
The federal hemp guidelines could be released in October.
“The truth is, every state in the nation is in this limbo period,” Munekata said. “Everybody is still stuck waiting for USDA guidelines. We’re waiting, we’re working, in the meantime, to be ready.”
For Ray Maki, owner, Permaculture Kauai, the sooner, the better.
Hemp, he said, is “the best opportunity for the American farmer in the last 250 years.”
It is an industry with growth toward the $20-billion mark in a few years, he said.
And Kauai, he added, could be a leader in demonstrating the commercial uses of hemp when it can be grown legally and with regulations that make economic sense.
He said other states have taken what he called a “more enlightened, open attitude toward this crop,” and have benefited in many ways.
It will create jobs and increase tax revenues, he said.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to finally grow this crop legally,” Maki said.
But there are obstacles to overcome.
Ige, when he vetoed the bill in July, said:
“Although the 2018 Farm Bill removes hemp from the controlled substances list, there are restrictions in SB1353 that would prevent Hawaii from properly regulating this industry. Hawaii’s unique tropical environment and year-round growth calendar allows between 3 to 4 crop cycles per year. While this is a positive for most crops, the fine line between hemp and marijuana creates complexities. The limitation of inspection to one time per calendar year would allow hemp growers to cultivate marijuana for the remainder of the calendar year following their one allowed inspection.
“Although I support the growth and development of Hawaii’s hemp industry, the increased THC concentration in new marijuana strains is a concern for our communities. We cannot allow unregulated growth cycles of hemp if it could result in unsupervised growth of marijuana.”
Daryl Kaneshiro, manager, Omao Lands LLC, said hemp is one of the oldest crops in the world, and he believes it offers many opportunities.
“We know that history shows we can do 25,000 different products with the hemp plant,” he said.
That’s why the retired politician put together a team — he has seven full-time employees — that has been working on all aspects of the hemp industry, from planting to growing to harvesting and marketing.
“Tell me the last time a commodity crop in Hawaii at the farmer level has been able to increase agricultural employment,” he said.
Kaneshiro hopes, when federal guidelines come out, the state follows up and the Legislature approves new regulations regarding the commercialization of hemp next year that is signed by the governor.
“This thing really has an enormous upside for the Hawaii farmer,” he said.
Kaneshiro said his hemp farm has been visited by government officials. He invited anyone to arrange a visit and see their operation.
It should not be confused with growing marijuana, he said, and many have made that mistake.
“This is a program that we’re legally doing with the Department of Agriculture,” he said.
Yoshi L’Hote, director, Aina Ho‘okupu o Kilauea, said they got involved with a hemp pilot program because “I feel it’s our job to provide new opportunities and create a diverse economy for our island.”
However, he has found growing it a challenge, as crops came in at over 2 percent THC level, which was a problem across the state.
More than half of hemp crops cultivated in Hawaii in the past year were unusable due to THC level above the federal limit for the chemical that causes people to become high.
The state Department of Agriculture said 18 crops were destroyed due to heightened tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
A cannabis plant is legally classified as hemp rather than marijuana if it contains 0.3% or less THC, which causes marijuana’s mind-altering effects, the Associated Press reported.
L’Hote said they lost 100 percent of their first crop.
“It made us aware growing hemp in Hawaii might not be as easy as it seems,” L’Hote said.
State Rep. Jimmy Tokioka said some regulators were worried about “backyard, rogue guys out there growing a plant that was not industrial hemp, that was disguised as industrial hemp, and selling it off as illegal marijuana.”
“That was the big issue that I saw,” he said.
Tokioka said hemp would be an excellent crop in Hawaii, it would be good for the state, and Kauai could be at the forefront. He praised Kaneshiro, Maki and LʻHote, and Munekata, for their roles, and thanked them for being leaders on the issue.
Ige said when USDA releases the “Hemp Protection Program,” Hawaii’s DOA will work with the Legislature to mesh the federal rules with local legislation to ensure the state has a program that meets federal requirements and provides proper oversight of the industry.
Tokioka also said he expects the Legislature will support a new state industrial hemp program.
“We want to see this thing happen,” he said.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.