HILO — Gov. David Ige signed a bill on Thursday creating a pilot research program for industrial hemp.
Senate Bill 2659 allows for cultivation and distribution of industrial hemp, the non-drug version of the cannabis plant, for agriculture and academic research. It establishes the program through the state Department of Agriculture.
Bill proponents say the Big Island could be an ideal place to grow the crop, which has a host of potential uses including clothing, food, biofuel and chicken feed.
Randy Cabral, Hawaii Farm Bureau
“There’s a lot of land available, so certainly it could be a big opportunity,” said Randy Cabral, president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau.
“The most exciting part of it all for me is, the potential to make farming more economically viable here in Hawaii,” added state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, who co-signed the measure. “It would be a wonderful crop for the Big Island.”
Ruderman didn’t have a firm guess as to how many Big Island farmers might apply for the experimental production licenses initially, but estimated fewer than a dozen.
Ka‘u vegetable farmer Greg Smith previously told West Hawaii Today he was in the early stages of planning a cooperative that could bring growers together and lead to the creation of a hub and processing center.
He said previously “Ka‘u would be ideal to grow” because of its plentiful soil and high number of “small farmers struggling to find a crop they can make money on.”
Licenses cost $250 plus $2 per acre. Growers are required to report to the DOA a week prior to harvesting any hemp, and would need permits to transport hemp grain or plant material. Only hemp from an approved list of seed cultivars can be grown.
The bill allots $425,000 to cover administrative costs and to administer the program. It doesn’t set a cap on the number of licenses that can be issued.
Ruderman said the “research” that is required to grow hemp could be broadened. For example, it could include marketing research.
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