A bill to allow the cultivation and distribution of industrial hemp for research was approved by the House Finance Committee on Friday.

Senate Bill 2659 would create an industrial hemp pilot program that would allow licensed agents of the state Board of Agriculture to conduct agricultural and academic research on the cultivation of industrial hemp and the “distribution of its seed” in Hawaii.

The measure would also provide the funding for the Board of Agriculture’s staff to help with the program.

Dr. Harry Ako and his staff conduct a press conference with legislators and media near Industrial Hemp Field at the University of Hawaii, Waimanalo Research Station, 41-698 Ahiki Street. 23 july 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
An experimental industrial hemp field at the University of Hawaii’s Waimanalo Research Station. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Another measure authorizing research-related cultivation of hemp, House Bill 2555, awaits committee hearings in the Senate after receiving unanimous approval in the House.

More robust hemp measures that would simply authorize the growth of industrial hemp as an agricultural product died in the House and Senate this session as lawmakers evidently look to tread lightly into this new arena for Hawaii.

The two remaining bills both note that “California manufacturers of hemp products currently import tens of thousands of acres’ worth of hemp seed, oil, and fiber products that, instead, could be produced by American farmers at a more competitive price.

“Additionally, the intermediate processing of hemp seed, oil, food ingredients, and fiber could create jobs in close proximity to the fields of cultivation.”

In written testimony for SB 2659, Mike Moran, president of the Kihei Community Association,  said the measure could ultimately provide relief to Maui after the closure of Hawaii’s last sugar plantation.

“You know Maui has lost our sugar and has like 36,000 acres in need of crop and this could be a significant part of that land use,” Moran said.

Under the Senate bill, only state-approved cultivators would be allowed to grow the industrial hemp and if they violated guidelines, they could lose that approval.

They would be required to allow federal, state and local authorities to sample the growing area and plants upon request, have a limited agency relationship with the Board of Agriculture for research purposes and allow any higher education institution to access the industrial hemp locations.

No written opposition was submitted before the Friday hearing.

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