Crop of opportunity

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Ray Maki, owner of Permaculture Kauai, speaks at the Lihue Business Association meeting Thursday at Duke’s Canoe Club at the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club, while Yoshi LʻHote, center, and Daryl Kaneshiro listen.

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

  1. mike perius September 30, 2019 7:48 am Reply

    Aloha Ray,
    hemp is not sustainable here. labor costs too high. Thailand has legalized medical marijuana, they’re eyeing hemp. The phillipines sugar plantations along with Mexico also put hawaii sugar out of business. These countries too are eyeing the legalization of hemp. They can produce for a fraction of what we can here due to labor ad land costs. How about Kentucky how much does a ton cost to produce there versus Kauai.
    It would be nice to to see this island become self sufficient supplying food first, after all were along way from the food were getting now. if the barge stops this strategy would be a win win.
    I also think theres more money in producing the the marijuana, as we grow the best and Theres money in it than hemp , like Kona coffee, it can be a cottage industry as well.wherein that labor and land cost is not relevant as if I grow 100 lbs on my land its my hard work and on my land. best of luck in your results and best of luck in what ever direction you go.

  2. Rev Dr. Malama September 30, 2019 8:50 am Reply

    Make no mistake….. government subsidies are funding this limited endeavor for a few large land developers and bogus ag corporations!
    The illegal underground world of high potency thc pakalolo growing in Hawaii is well into the 4th decade of BLATANT PLUNDERING of Hawai’ian Kingdom lands…..

    1. mike perius September 30, 2019 2:52 pm Reply

      ive known ray make for years,, he’s not getting any subsidies, and he’s earning some 10 acres, your way off base to make that broad statement. You cannot back that statement up with truth. Your frustration is evident, but it only hurts you to such false statement to every one, your a reverend so you do know whats Pono? You do know god disapproves of such actions. Further you state that growing pakalolo is plundering Hawaiian Kingdom lands. I agree the finest pakalolo has been grown here for 40 years, I disagree that the growers plundered Hawaiian Kingdom lands. Your want a kingdom reinstated , I understand and support all Hawaiians in regaining what was stolen from them , however The problem with any kingdom is it lacks freedoms, like freedom of speech, however you have complete freedom of speech to share your views with all at this moment. You must be careful what you ask for you might get it, in any event I do disagree with you, but I wish you the best in your endeavors and truly enjoy reading your posts.

  3. Debra Kekaualua September 30, 2019 3:30 pm Reply

    Are all of these corporate meetings and the agenda of the few, before or after DeOccupation?

  4. Rev Dr. Malama October 1, 2019 6:10 pm Reply

    Kalamai (I am sorry, please forgive me) Mike as perhaps I mispoke regarding the USA subsidy of the hemp PILOT program in Hawai’i……
    WHAT I AGREE WITH YOU ABOUT IS THAT WE SHOULD BE GROWING FOOD!!! WE NEED TO GET SUSTAINABLE AND OUR NATIONAL SUBJECTS NEED LAND TO FARM! We NEED the Jones Act abolished and many other illegal regulations removed from the State…..

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