Law Opening Doors To Industrial Help Research

The UH Industrial Hemp Research Project kicked off April 10 with a blessing and planting ceremony in Waimanalo, where principal researcher Harry Ako placed a seed in each prepared hole. Rep. Thielen (behind Ako) long has supported the crop for soil cleaning and bio-fuel uses, and to help farmers stay in business. Photo by Bodie Collins, bcollins@midweek.com.

The UH Industrial Hemp Research Project kicked off April 10 with a blessing and planting ceremony in Waimanalo, where principal researcher Harry Ako placed a seed in each prepared hole. Rep. Thielen (behind Ako) long has supported the crop for soil cleaning and bio-fuel uses, and to help farmers stay in business. Photo by Bodie Collins, bcollins@midweek.com.

Thielen’s Turf…Rep. Cynthia Thielen

University of Hawaii and the state Department of Agriculture made hemp history April 10 in Waimanalo with the launch of the nation’s second state-funded and state university-initiated industrial hemp research project since the 2014 Farm Bill legalized its cultivation for research purposes.

State legislators, UH officials and longtime supporters gathered on the hemp field at UH Waimanalo Research Station for a seed planting ceremony and blessing. Some attendees proudly wore beautifully patterned aloha shirts made of hemp, and everyone held a program made from this multi-purpose material. Community groups also contributed generously by lending o‘os (traditional Hawaiian digging sticks).

Lawmakers across party lines are galvanizing to legalize hemp. Federally, the House and Senate are pushing the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015, which would remove federal restrictions on the commercial farming of industrial hemp, and non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of cannabis. Thanks to the Farm Bill that President Obama signed in 2014, more than 15 states, including Hawaii, now are permitted to study the properties of hemp and start growing it.

Vermont, Colorado and Arkansas began pilot programs this year. UH will study phytoremediation and biofuel properties of industrial hemp. If Congress succeeds in its efforts to legalize hemp, it could revolutionize Hawaii agriculture. Farmers could grow hemp on abandoned agricultural lands once used for pineapple and sugar cane, removing the toxic buildup from years of pesticide and petro-fertilizer use. Deep-rooted hemp stalks could eliminate pest nematodes and any weeds in the process, ending up with a valuable crop that can be used for biofuels.

In our climate, hemp’s growth period can be as short as three months, and one acre of hemp equates to up to four acres of tree pulp.

With more than 25,000 uses — food, fiber, fuel, plastics and the building material hempcrete, for example — many anxiously await the findings of lead researcher Harry Ako, as to the potential industrial hemp has for Hawaii agriculture.

Contact state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-District 50 (Kailua, Kaneohe Bay), at 586-6480 or email repthielen@capitol.hawaii.gov.