It is ironic that our country’s Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper, because any mention of hemp today is likely to be met with raised eyebrows.
However, the public perception of hemp, which is not the same plant as marijuana, might be on the verge of a dramatic national shift.
Last week, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I am convinced that allowing (hemp’s) production will be a positive development for Kentucky’s farm families and economy. The utilization of hemp to produce everything from clothing to paper is real and if there is a capacity to center a new domestic industry in Kentucky that will create jobs in these difficult economic times, that sounds like a good thing to me.”
McConnell is cosponsoring the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013.
For centuries, hemp was a major crop in the Americas, Europe and Asia, where it was — and still is — used in rope, textiles, nets, paper, oils, cosmetics and food. Abraham Lincoln illuminated his home with lamp oil made from hemp seeds. The Puritans grew hemp, as did George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The Founding Fathers promoted a hemp-based economy for the new country. Some of the colonies even required farmers to grow the endlessly useful crop, seeing it as necessary to their survival.
Our state has a chance to lead the nation in this exciting agricultural opportunity. Hawaii’s climate and soil offer ideal conditions for cultivation — and in return, where hemp grows, it cleanses the soil of pesticides, oil, gasoline and other toxins through a process called “phytoremediation.” Industrial hemp phytoremediation works so well, it was used to help clean up and stop further soil contamination after the nuclear power plant catastrophe at Chernobyl.
This soil-cleansing characteristic is the focus of House Bill 154, a bill moving fast through the Legislature, which authorizes the state Board of Agriculture to establish an industrial hemp remediation pilot program. The purpose clause of the bill explains that the “state’s extensive agricultural operations in the past have left toxins in vast tracts of land. Phytoremediation will remove these toxins.”
HB 154 establishes a two-year hemp phytoremediation pilot project to extract toxins such as metals, pesticides, solvents, explosive and crude oil without the need to remove any of the contaminated topsoil. This process will leave a clean, balanced and nutrient-rich soil, which can then be safely used for agriculture or improving conservation habitats.
Today, in Hawaii and the rest of this country, you can buy hemp beer, hemp iced tea, hemp carryall bags, hemp shirts, hemp sheets, blankets and tortilla chips (corn chips sprinkled with hemp seeds). You can even wrap your baby’s bottom in hemp diapers. And hemp-seed oil isn’t just for Honest Abe’s lamps. The oil from this little seed is packed with essential amino acids, essential fatty acids (Omega 3, Omega 6), and magnesium.
We must get beyond the irrational opposition to this valuable plant. We know Hawaii is an ideal place to grow hemp — we did it in 1999, with the Hawaii Industrial Hemp Research Project. We can do it again.