Cannabis, an extremely versatile plant is going through a renaissance in the 21st century.

With the help of community leaders, proactive legislators, and helpful government officials, support for those who want to produce and use this crop for medicinal and industrial uses is growing. Mahalo nui to all those who have taken their time to look at this issue in a deliberate manner, and provide substantive support to make the commercial production of cannabis a reality. Mahalo to the Hawaii Legislature and the Hawaii Department of Health for doing what they can to legalize and make safely available an important medicine.

As Hawaii continues with its process of figuring out how to cultivate and regulate this herb commercially, we should take a look at some positive aspects of this crop, as well as a bit of legal background on where we are and how we got here.

"Take it and Grow' grow kit on display at the Green Hands of Aloha booth at the Marijuana Expo. Hawaii Convention Center. 19 july 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat.

A display at the Marijuana Expo at the Hawaii Convention Center.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Economic Benefits

According to Wikipedia (and we believe everything they post, right?) globally, in 2013, 60,400 kilograms of cannabis were produced legally. In 2013 between 128 and 232 million people are thought to have used cannabis as a recreational drug (2.7 percent to 4.9 percent of the global population between the ages of 15 and 65).

The Economist magazine estimates the global cannabis black market value at $50 billion. U.S. consumption of various legal and imported hemp products in 2013 increased 24 percent to $581 million. Low THC hemp grown for medicinal purposes is valued at $1,000pound.

Clearly, there is a lot of money to be made with this crop. There is abundant unused land and water for agriculture here. Hawaii can and should position itself to reap considerable profits exporting cannabis products and marketing them locally. We should not wait for other states to dominate the market and sell us their products if we don’t have to.

Medical Benefits

Medical Cannabis is now a reality for Hawaii residents with a prescription. While the benefits of this medicine are best left up to patients and doctors to explain,  recently published research indicates medical benefits to this medicine. The fact people will abuse it hopefully should not deter anyone from supporting its use to our collective benefit.

Local and safe supplies should displace any imported products in as short a time frame as possible. Hawaii should soon see increased availability of bona-fide cannabis medicine, and a drop in price with a reduced incentive to import from overseas.

Agronomic Benefits

The technology for the indoor and outdoor cultivation of this crop is advancing every year and the growers’ supply industry could have knock-off effects for other sectors of the agricultural economy. As weather variations from climate change become the norm, farmers are going to need some forms of affordable “climate control.” Innovation in this sector will need funding, and cannabis products seem like a potential revenue stream for agricultural innovation in the years ahead.

When power consumption from artificial lighting is brought to a reasonable level through innovations in lighting technology and energy storage, Hawaii’s future farmers should be able to mitigate some of their risk from unstable weather through growing in greenhouses and high tunnels. Hopefully local companies will grow into supply chains for the new industry, and a new agricultural manufacturing sector for these technologies will make or assemble a majority of manufactured inputs locally.

Legal History In The U.S.

There is a wealth of information online about this fascinating plant, but what interested me in my recent research to write this article is how long humans have been using this crop vs. how short of a time it has widely been illegal to grow and use.

For some political reasons, until very recently, under the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 cannabis has been completely illegal under federal law. The American Medical Association strongly opposed that law at the time. An AMA representative testified at a Congressional hearing: “We cannot understand yet, Mr. Chairman, why this bill should have been prepared in secret for 2 years without any intimation, even, to the profession, that it was being prepared.” (William C. Woodward, M.D.)

Since 1937 an estimated 20 million people have been arrested or incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes. That is why this writer uses the term “cannabis” as it is the correct nomenclature, yet it remains a stigma-free word.

In the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill (when hemp was de-regulated for research by the Department of Agriculture and universities) and more recently this year with the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the spending bill, the federal government is beginning to let states cultivating cannabis in accordance with their laws do their business free of interference.

Act 56 was signed into law by Governor Ige in Hawaii in July 2014. This law allows for one hemp test plot in the state. Our College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources recently concluded the Waimanalo field trial for phytoremediation (soil cleaning) and biofuel production. Dr. Harry Ako and his team of researchers conducted the research, and the CTAHR will report results to the legislature soon.

Act 241 was signed into law by the governor in July of this year. This law establishes the system under which the Hawaii Medical Marijuana Dispensaries will operate.

Cannabis World History In A Nutshell

For Medicine:

The Yanghai Tombs, a vast ancient cemetery in China, have revealed the 2700-year-old grave of a shaman. Near the head and foot of the shaman was a large leather basket and wooden bowl filled with 789 grams of cannabis, superbly preserved by climatic and burial conditions. An international team demonstrated that this material contained tetrahydrocannibinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis. This may be the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent. (Source: Wikipedia)

For food

Cannabis is first referred to in Hindu Vedas between 2000 and 1400 BCE, in the Atharvaveda. By the 10th century CE, it has been suggested that it was referred to by some in India as “food of the gods”.Cannabis use eventually became a ritual part of the Hindu festival of Holi. (Source: Wikipedia)

For fiber:

The first Gutenberg bible was printed on hemp paper. The first drafts of the Declaration of independence were written on hemp paper. The original U.S. constitution is written on hemp paper.

In 1850 the U.S. Census recorded 8,327 hemp plantations of 2,000 acres or more and an uncalculated number of small hemp farms.

One acre of cannabis hemp, in annual rotation over a twenty year period would produce as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees being cut down over the same twenty year period. (Source:

For fuel:

“Hemp can also produce 10 times more methanol than corn, the second best living fuel source. Hemp as fuel is renewable whereas oil is not” –

“Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?” – Henry Ford

In conclusion:

From President George Washington to Gov. David Ige, it seems like smart people are supporting cannabis cultivation. Together, we can make a new industry here, let’s do it !

In accordance with the mission to support vibrant and prosperous agricultural communities statewide with education, legislation and cooperation, Hawaii Farmers Union United supports the safe, legal cultivation of medical cannabis and its cousin, industrial hemp.

With our agriculture sector in need of a diversity of crops, this new opportunity is one farmers will realize some real financial benefit from. Let’s use it for its highest best use: to help farmers thrive and our local economy grow!

Simon Russell lives with his family on a working farm on Maui.

Simon Russell lives with his family on a working farm on Maui.

Simon Russell

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About the Author

  • Simon Russell
    Simon Russell is an agricultural consultant/organic farmer living on Maui with his wife and 2 children. Simon is the State Vice President for the Hawaii Farmers Union United. Simon likes to formulate and implement policy that will help people make a living in industries that take Hawaii towards resilient self sufficiency and agricultural sustainability. As a point of disclosure, Simon is currently an unpaid partner with Medical Medicinals LLC, which will submit an application for a Medical Marijuana dispensary license next month.