While the rest of the country races ahead with one of the most exciting agricultural revolutions in generations, Hawaii remains stuck in the era of prohibition.

Gov. David Ige’s intent to veto Senate Bill 1353 “Relating to Industrial Hemp” once again demonstrates the Fifth Floor’s unwillingness to empower Hawaii’s farmers to take economic advantage of industrial hemp.

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There’s no need to fear hemp. It’s a product with 25,000 uses ranging from highly nutritious food to construction material, with zero psychoactive properties. Instead of running away from this incredible opportunity, it should be embraced with open arms.

The 2018 Farm Act legalized hemp by taking it off the Controlled Substances Act, and states across the country are already responding by investing in their farmers. Oregon and Washington state are leading the nation in preparing their agricultural industries to grow a crop with almost limitless applications.

This year, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington signed administrative rule changes into law that loosened restrictions on the planting and processing of hemp.

Oregon took an even more forward-thinking approach to stimulating industrial hemp production. In response to hemp’s federal legalization, Oregon State University created the nation’s largest hemp research center.

The new center involves 40 faculty members, 10 research stations around the state, and is actively pursuing comprehensive hemp research. More than 1,500 farmers have registered with the Oregon Department of Agriculture to grow hemp this year, nearly three times the amount that registered last year, and about 46,219 acres across Oregon will produce hemp this year.

Rep Cynthia Thielen speaks in support of Hemp during floor session.
Rep. Cynthia Thielen speaking in support of hemp during a floor session April 30. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

By contrast, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and the rest of the Ige administration allowed Hawaii’s 2016 industrial hemp research program to languish. SB 1353 would have fully funded, legalized, and supported Hawaii’s industrial hemp program and would have brought Hawaii’s legal environment in line with last year’s federal legalization of hemp.

Furthermore, the investment would have established Hawaii as the premier developer of tropical seed and plant varieties. Puerto Rico, Central American countries, and Southeast Asia would have benefitted from Hawaii’s pursuit of region-specific hemp varieties.

Perhaps the Ige administration needs to be reminded about hemp’s incredible and environmentally friendly uses. Hemp can be used to make rope, textiles, shoes, food, paper, bioplastics, insulation, construction materials, and biofuel. As a food, hemp has almost as much protein as soybeans, provides all nine essential amino acids, contains numerous “good” fatty acids, and has many other superfood benefits.Building materials incorporating hemp are extremely durable, breathable, and environmentally friendly.

“Hempcrete,” concrete-like blocks made with hemp and lime, can be used for a variety of construction applications that would normally be limited to timber. Many car makers are starting to use hemp in their vehicles, including Audi, BMW, Honda, and Volkswagen.

A mixture of fiberglass, hemp, and other natural fibers create a strong and light building material for passenger vehicles. Hemp can also be used to leech impurities out of wastewater, clean toxins out of soil, and is even being used to clean contaminants from the soil at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site. And these uses for just one plant merely scratch the surface of what hemp can do.

Tying The Hands Of Farmers

Let’s review the value of the emerging industrial hemp business.

According to CNBC, the hemp industry was valued at $1.1 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach more than $2.6 billion over the next three years. The non-psychoactive hemp-derived cannabidiol market is expected to reach $22 billion in 2022. And these numbers don’t capture the tens of thousands of jobs that will be needed to support the new industry.

Production of legal hemp will require accountants, lawyers, IT specialists, lab technicians, farm workers, truck drivers, retail employees, and more. Hawaii has long been trying to put its fallow sugar cane fields back into production. Encouraging industrial hemp in Hawaii will draw the state into this multi-billion-dollar opportunity that will boost jobs, our economy, and tax revenue.

“Hemp investment would have established Hawaii as the premier developer of tropical seed and plant varieties.”

The opportunity to further diversify Hawaii’s economy, reinvigorate our farmers, and lead the world on research and innovation is nearly unparalleled. But the longer we wait to implement common-sense regulations that work under federal law and modeled after states like Tennessee, Montana, and Oregon, the longer Hawaii’s farmers, workers, and consumers will miss out. This year, Oregon farmers will plant acreage amounting to nearly one-third the size of Molokai.

Imagine if Hawaii’s farmers were empowered to grow this lucrative agricultural commodity instead of having their hands tied behind their back by their state leaders. The Ige administration is making a grave error in choosing to veto SB 1353. Thousands of farmers, manufacturers, small business, and entrepreneurs across the state are relying on Hawaii’s government to do the right thing.

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