You’d be hard-pressed to find greater champions for Hawaii’s emerging hemp industry than the signatories to this Community Voice, which is why our opposition to Senate Bill 1353 needs explaining.

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The bill as written requires the state Department of Agriculture to establish a permanent industrial hemp program and a special fund. It would reduce or repeal some regulatory requirements under the existing industrial hemp pilot program. And it would exclude hemp from statutory definitions of marijuana.

Hemp, a non-psychoactive strain of cannabis, is clearly one of the most valuable plants known to humankind, and the day in 1937 when the U.S. government effectively banned its cultivation was a dark one indeed. From that moment forward, Americans were forced to abandon hemp’s 20,000-plus uses and forsake all hope of a regenerative plant-based economy; this while being herded down an unsustainable path that 80 years hence has us seriously considering whether we can survive as a species.

Why, then, oppose a piece of landmark legislation that seeks to right such grievous wrong? Because in their haste to undo the harm the federal ban created, Hawaii’s well-meaning state legislators have exposed their constituents to a host of unintended consequences that could very well amount to an equally grievous wrong moving forward.

In the aftermath of federal prohibition, two distinct forces are emerging nationwide.

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 industrial hemp field at the University of Hawaii’s Waimanalo Research Station, July 2015. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

There are those who seek to renew the promise of a highly lucrative agricultural industry that is also regenerative, and those who seek to exploit current high prices for hemp derivatives such as cannabidiol, or CBD — the environment and resident population be damned. This latter force (little different from sugar planters whose highly exploitive practices still plague Hawaii to this day) has set its sights on our islands, where its proponents hope to cash in on the “grown in Hawaii” brand as the market for CBD tanks elsewhere.

It is the imminent threat of damage to Hawaii’s environment and its brand that has us speaking out against SB 1353 and imploring Gov. David Ige to veto this ill-conceived and ill-timed legislation. Although legislators who worked on the bill believe they empowered the Department of Agriculture to avert negative impacts, we agree with HDOA’s own determination that the department will be powerless to thwart the worst instincts of the well-funded and politically connected forces at work in the CBD industry.

Join us in telling Gov. Ige that we don’t want to see Hawaii’s prime agricultural land turned into thousands of acres of greenhouses, where energy, plastic and pesticide intensive mono-cropping practices compound the mistakes of exploitations past. Instead, let’s keep the state’s hemp pilot program in place and use it to set the highest possible standard for a regenerative agricultural industry that benefits Hawaii’s people and environment and is truly deserving of the “grown in Hawaii” brand.

We do need to lay the foundation for commercial hemp farms and we do need to free the industry from defunct federal prohibitions on the cultivation and transport of these crops. By vetoing SB 1353 this year, the governor will not be acting in opposition to Hawaii’s emerging hemp industry; he will be supporting its true promise and instructing the legislature to rethink the state’s approach to ending prohibition, this time with the future in mind.

Editor’s note: Hawaii Island residents Share and Roger Christie contributed to this Community Voice.

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