Industrial hemp program headed for permanency?

  • Senate Bill 1353, should Gov. David Ige sign it, will provide a pathway for farmers statewide to become licensed to grow hemp and appropriate funds for three full-time employees to run the program. (Associated Press photo)

A bill headed to the governor’s desk would, if signed, change the state’s industrial hemp pilot program into a permanent program.

A conference committee on Senate Bill 1353 recommended the bill — which would fund a permanent hemp-growing industry throughout the state — be passed at the 11th hour Friday, the last day for conference committees to approve bills.

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The bill, should Gov. David Ige sign it, will provide a pathway for farmers statewide to become licensed to grow hemp and appropriate funds for three full-time employees to run the program.

While the most recent draft of the bill does not specify how much funding would be necessary, previous amendments to the bill recommended $250,000 be appropriated to the Industrial Hemp Special Fund, which would also be established by the bill.

“It’s really a victory for all the small farmers out there,” said Rep. Richard Creagan, D-South Kona/Ka‘u, who was one of the conferees at Friday’s committee.

Creagan said the conference committee removed language that would allow the chairperson of the state Board of Agriculture to set limits on the number of licenses issued for the current pilot program until the full program is established.

“We don’t want to just stop giving people licenses,” Creagan said. “We don’t want to look like we’re trying to keep people out.”

In March, seven more licenses were awarded to state farmers to grow hemp as part of the pilot program, one of which was on the Big Island. The number of Hawaii licensees is now 17.

Hemp was removed from the nation’s list of controlled substances as part of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. However, because marijuana, a fellow cannabis species, remains illegal, the production of hemp is still tightly regulated. Hemp grown in the pilot program must be tested to make sure its concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol — the compound that lends marijuana its psychoactive properties — is under 0.3 percent.

Another bill that would legalize hemp in the state to the extent legalized by the Agriculture Improvement Act stalled in March and failed to pass.

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Should SB 1353 be signed — which Creagan said was all but assured — the program will begin in 2020.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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