The hemp industry is poised for a legislative win after several years of negotiation.

Despite a bumper crop of food and agriculture bills being submitted this session, several marquee pieces of legislation appear to be on death’s door. 

But agricultural advocates are hopeful that some of those bills might yet appear in the state budget which is due to be released within the next couple of days. 

The number of bills aimed at revitalizing Hawaii’s agriculture sector that have passed through conference committees both deflated and buoyed industry advocates, and they now wait for the full state budget to understand what the industry will take from this legislative session. 

Da Bux signs near the vegetables at Times Supermarket King Street.
State support for the Da Bux Double Up Food Bucks program was one of the proposals that failed this session. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

Some long-fought draft legislation made it through the conference committee Friday, but other big ticket items that were asking for state funds fell by the wayside as lawmakers scrambled to make the deadline.  

“We were hoping that a few more agriculture bills would get passed. There were some that sort of made it at the last minute and others that didn’t because we were waiting on approval,” Rep. Kristin Kahaloa, vice chair of the House Agriculture and Food Systems Committee, said in an interview. 

Bills that did not make the cut this session include several tax credit initiatives for farmers and ranchers, a plan to reboot the state’s meat inspection program and various bills that would benefit hunger initiatives statewide. 

One bill asked for $3 million in state funds to be injected into the Double Up Food Bucks program which doubles the dollar of recipients of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s when they buy local produce

  • ‘Hawaii Grown’ Special Series

Those state monies would be matched by the federal government, and would bring $12.6 million in economic benefits for Hawaii, a potential “triple win” for the state that benefits farmers and consumers along with the economy, supporters argue.

But Kahaloa says a “small glimmer of hope” remains because it may be slotted into the the state budget. 

The budget should make its way to lawmakers’ desks by Wednesday morning before they take it to a vote on Thursday.

Sen. Mike Gabbard says the state reupping its support for Da Bux was just one “no brainer” opportunity the legislature missed this year, along with creating a sustainable food systems working group under DOA.

“I was pretty disappointed,” Gabbard said in an interview. “What I’ve learned from being in the Senate since 2006 is that sometimes it takes years for things to pass.”

Hemp On High

One of the big winners was the state’s hemp industry which managed to get legislation passed after years of contending with barriers in growing and distributing its products throughout Hawaii.

Hawaii Royal Hemp is preparing to grow and refine premium organic full spectrum CBD Cannabidiol products.
The Hawaii hemp industry is poised to benefit from the 2023 legislative session.
(Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

If signed into law, the bills will effectively remove duplicative state regulations, establish labeling requirements for Hawaii grown hemp and establish a task force to ensure the needs of the industry are better matched by the state.

“It’s kind of a miracle considering the last four years, when we got nothing,” Gail Byrne Baber of Hawaii Hemp Farmers Association said in an interview.

Byrne Baber says the hemp industry is a good example for the rest of Hawaii.

“It really comes down to the specifics and nuances and farmers need to be at the table, all the time,” Byrne Baber said.

Squeaking Through

The Hawaii Farm Bureau closely monitored about 50 bills throughout the legislative session and about half of them passed through conference committee Friday.

Bureau executive director Brian Miyamoto says he was disappointed by the omission of several bills but the session yielded some wins for agricultural infrastructure, such as the state’s purchase of the Wahiawa Dam and spillway from Dole and $10 million to launch a Dam and Appurtenance Improvement or Removal Grant Program.

Water flows near a reservoir located along Kaukonahua Road near Wailua, Oahu.
Infrastructure for agriculture will see additional investment come from the 2023 legislative session. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Some previously moribund bills had found new life in the previous draft budget, announced last week, including a plan for a new slaughterhouse on Oahu and a $10 million allocation to the Agribusiness Development Corp. to create a food innovation network.

Other initiatives had already been taken on by state agencies without laws mandating them to do so, such as a long-awaited transfer of lands from the Department of Land and Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture

There has been a general feeling that the Legislature has had less money to spend this year, which has led to the waylaying of various bills.

“I feel like we gained more ground last year,” Hunter Heaivilin of Hawaii Farmers Union said. “It was more targeted in some ways. The broad support for ag as an industry still seems to not be there.”

“Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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