BY REPRESENTATIVE CYNTHIA THIELEN
Across the country, in nearly two dozen states – including Colorado, Washington, Kentucky, California, Minnesota, and Illinois — the drive to re-legalize hemp cultivation is gaining support. Industrial hemp is tied to no particular ideology; its supporters range from the liberal (Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon) to the conservative (Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky). This ability to leap across political barriers shows the common-sense appeal of hemp cultivation.
Our own Legislature has temporarily shelved its chance to put Hawaii at the front of America’s hemp renaissance, but we will have a chance to bring it back during the 2014 session.
The intent of House Bill 154 was to allow a two-year hemp phytoremediation and biofuel research project in Hawaii.
Dole Food Company Hawaii generously offered to donate land for the project, which would cost an estimated $60,000 per year (including seeds, fencing around the two-acre plot, and other needed materials and expertise). The bill was approved by several House and Senate committees before stalling in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
I respect the Ways and Means Committee Chair’s concerns about public funding for the project; it therefore makes sense to amend the bill to use only private funding. During the next few months, we can work on raising money from private sources and starting the process to get DEA permits. Then, in January, we can move the improved bill out of committee for final reading.
I spearheaded Hawaii’s first industrial hemp research project, back in 1999-2003. Dole donated land then, too, and we were able to secure private funding from several sources. We secured the necessary permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration. The ILWU supported the project, understanding that adding a crop to Hawaii’s agricultural community would benefit workers as well as the farmers themselves, along with other small and large business owners in our state.
With its ability to cleanse the soil of toxins, industrial hemp would be an environmentally friendly replacement for sugar and pineapple. Hemp is often grown without pesticides or herbicides due to its natural ability to ward off unwanted insects and weeds. And hemp’s potential as a biofuel feedstock could be a game-changer for Hawaii.
Farming organizations across the U.S. support a change in the federal government’s policy on hemp cultivation. The National Farmers Union, which represents more than a quarter-million family farms and ranches in the U.S., supports industrial hemp cultivation. The NFU has urged the Drug Enforcement Administration to differentiate between industrial hemp and marijuana, and to allow American farmers to grow hemp under state law without requiring DEA approval. (This was the essence of Hawaii’s HCR6 SD1, which passed its House and Senate committees this session.)
Thousands of products made from hemp are imported to and sold in the U.S. Why are we paying extra to have someone else grow and process the plant these products are made from? We know we can grow successful hemp crops here – the Hawaii Industrial Hemp Research Project in 1999 showed us that. We can do it again, with next year’s passage of HB 154.
About the author: *State Representative Cynthia Thielen, a Republican, has represented District 50 (Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) for 23 years. Currently she is Assistant Minority Leader, Vice Chair, Energy and Environmental Protection Committee and is the ranking member on the Water, Land and Ocean Resources Committee and the Judiciary Committee.