My blog is dedicated to the exploration of industrial hemp in America including the rich history of all forms of cannabis, the evolving law and politics of hemp and marijuana, the many products made from cannabis and the capacity, real or imagined, of hemp to re-industrialize rural America and revitalize the American family farm.
On the heels of the state Legislature approving funding for continued development of an industrial hemp program, Hawaii Island hosts the first Hawaii Hemp Conference next weekend.
The event begins Friday with a welcome dinner and concert, with a mini-expo and marketplace taking place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Farm visits are scheduled for Sunday.
“It’s about the local development of a market,” event producer Morris Beegle told the Tribune-Herald.
The conference is sponsored by the Colorado Hemp Company, which also hosts NoCo, the largest hemp conference in North America. Beegle said more than 5,000 people attended this year’s NoCo.
“I think we’ve got a lot of great education and information to share with other states,” he said.
Hemp has long been considered a possible new crop for Hawaii, but because it comes from the same plant as marijuana (hemp has levels of 0.3 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of marijuana), implementation has been a slow process.
“1999,” said Oahu Sen. Mike Gabbard, who will speak at the conference. “That was the first year we had legislation.”
Act 305 set up a privately funded three-year research program on Oahu. Little was done after that program concluded.
Over the next 15 years, more than 50 pieces of hemp legislation were filed, Gabbard said.
In 2014, the federal Farm Bill allowed industrial hemp to be grown as long as it was for research purposes and developed under the authority of state agriculture departments or universities.
There are about two dozen pilot programs around the country, including projects in Colorado, California, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee.
After a two-year feasibility study conducted at the University of Hawaii at Manoa determined that hemp would thrive in Hawaii’s climate, the legislature approved a pilot program within the Hawaii Department of Agriculture last year.
This year, legislation was approved that requires counties to recognize hemp as an agricultural product. That bill, Senate Bill 773, is awaiting a signature from Gov. David Ige.
HDOA is working on a project to develop a Hawaii-acclimated line of hemp seeds for the pilot program, and concluded a request for proposals period last month.
Up to three projects will be funded at a total cost of $225,000.
“These cultivars need to get localized,” Beegle said. “Hawaii bringing in genetics from Europe and some places that aren’t the tropics won’t work. … Climate is incredibly important for this plant.”
The DOA is set to begin a series of public hearings regarding rules for the pilot program later this summer. Growers will be able to apply for licenses beginning in January 2018.
“I think there’s going to be an explosion here, frankly,” Gabbard said, noting that one survey had found more than 100 farmers who were interested in hemp.
“My vision has always been kind of a cottage industry with the Hawaii brand,” he said. “Hawaiian hemp shampoo, Hawaiian hemp clothing.”
Hawaii has an advantage over locations such as Colorado because hemp can be harvested multiple times throughout the year.
“There’s just this growing awareness of what a miracle crop it is,” Gabbard said. In the second pilot program, hemp grew from seed to a ten-foot-tall plant in 16 weeks.
Panel discussions during Saturday’s portion of the conference will discuss getting started as a hemp farmer as well as what to do with the crop once it’s in the field.
“If you’re going to grow hemp, you have to understand the legislative and regulatory side,” Beegle said. “Fortunately, there in Hawaii you … actually have a lot of representatives out there that support this, which is good.”
In addition to Gabbard, Hawaii Island Sen. Russell Ruderman, a co-introducer of SB 773, will speak on Saturday. State Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who helmed the 1999 legislation effort, and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard will present via video message.
Other speakers include keynote speaker Doug Fine, a New Hampshire hemp farmer and journalist who previously spoke at last year’s Hawaii Farmers Union United state convention, and HFU president Vincent Mina. Several Hawaii Island farmers and Colorado hemp producers are also set to present.
The speaker and panel portion require paid tickets, but the expo portion is free.
“You’re going to be able to walk away with a broad range of information if you just want to stop by,” Beegle said.