A tsunami-size market change washed over America when the 2018 Farm Bill became law last December. The feds removed hemp from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s outdated Controlled Substances List, opening the door to grow, transport across state lines and sell this now-legally classified agricultural commodity.

Competent state agriculture departments completed their work in advance, rushing to seize potentially billions of dollars in profits, create new jobs and enable entrepreneurial opportunities. Sadly, Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture — not so much.

Industrial hemp is legally defined as having less than .3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, making it impossible to get high from any part of this cannabis plant.

Products made from hemp include soap, milk, seeds and snacks. If only the Hawaii DOA was paying attention. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Current industry estimates report U.S. hemp product sales at nearly $700 million annually. This includes food and body products, dietary supplements, clothing, auto parts and building materials. Additionally, cannabis producer Aurora Cannabis began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “ACB.”

One day after the president signed the bill into law last December, Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner submitted his state’s hemp plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA must accept or reject states’ plans within 60 days. If a state’s oversight plan is not approved, it must follow the USDA’s national production plan. Kentucky’s hemp processors grossed $16.7 million in sales in 2018.

Also last December, Alabama authorized hemp-derived cannabidiol production and sales. CBD is a known pain reliever. Furthermore, Nevada’s Leading Edge Pharma announced that it will sell its CBD-infused topical pain relievers in some 100 pharmacies in 22 states including New York, Maryland and California.

In contrast, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture website at the time of this writing makes no mention of 2018’s monumental law; has released no media alert about the cash crop and the opportunity for Hawaii’s growers; and contains no new guidance for potential applicants following hemp’s federally legal status, which unshackles our farmers from previous ridiculous restrictions, including a severely limited choice of seeds.

Hawaii Is Left Behind

Some 42 states, including Hawaii, have previously established hemp programs. Kentucky grew nearly 7,000 acres of hemp in 2018, and has reportedly received more than 1,000 applications to grow the crop in 2019. But in Hawaii, 65 total acres were approved by the agriculture for growing in 2018, according to its website. Only 19 acres were on Oahu. None were in Maui County, which shuttered Hawaii’s last major sugar mill in 2018, leaving nearly 700 people unemployed.

Hemp responds so well to our climate that it yields three crops yearly. This happens only in Hawaii! Market reports indicate that the estimated gross value of hemp production per acre is about $21,000 from seeds and $12,500 from stalks. Furthermore, U.S. hemp retail sales have increased by about 10 percent to more than 20 percent annually since 2011, accounting for more than two-thirds of the value of U.S. retail sales in 2016.

In my ongoing advocacy, I am working to secure a letter from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation stating that bank clients with industrial-hemp monies are insured because hemp is federally legal as of December 2018.

I am also sponsoring a hemp-related bill that strips the agriculture department of what has been its responsibility to complete and submit the aforementioned state plan to the USDA — to end our intolerable delay regarding all things hemp that our citizens have had to endure — and instead put into law the new federal requirements that Hawaii will follow. This bypasses the turgid agency and will let farmers plant promptly.

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