Industrial Hemp Means EconomicDevelopment for Hawaii

What crop can we grow in Hawaii to eat, wear, shelter us, sit, surf or write on, lubricate our bodies and machines, bed and feed our animals, use in paint and varnish and burn for fuel — and every step of the way provide business and employment opportunities? The answer is industrial hemp, with over 25,000 uses for this versatile and non-hallucinogenic agricultural crop.

When Governor Ben Cayetano recently stated his support for industrial hemp (see above), he recognized that the non-hallucinogenic plant would help Hawaii’s agricultural industry. Actually, it will do much more, as companies vie to produce the myriad of products, which can be made out of the plant. Sixty years ago Popular Mechanics called hemp “the new Billion-Dollar Crop.” With over 25,000 uses and products, today industrial hemp is truly an entrepreneur’s dream.

It’s time to get past the “giggle factor” and look at how corporations already are taking advantage of this versatile crop: 100% hemp carpet, which can be fully composted is being produced by Interface, America’s largest commercial carpet company; tree-free hemp paper is available from Crane and Co., Inc. and niche paper companies; the Body Shop carries a line of hemp lotions, soap and lip conditioners; hemp beers and ales are winning awards; hemp nut and Hemprella foods are available at Foodland; hemp bio-mass energy sources are being tapped; Ford is using hemp composite automobile parts; Hempstead Co. in California is producing hemp based surfboards, stronger than fiberglass; and international corporations are producing construction materials. With permits this crop can be grown now for research and development in Hawaii without changing the law.

Industrial hemp grows to its 15′ – 18′ maturity in approximately 75 days, meaning we can get 2-3 crops a year. Neighbor Island and Oahu processing plants can turn crops into a myriad of building materials including 100% hemp particleboard, medium density fiberboard and hemp bricks, resistant to termites. Hemp based plaster and hemp insulation and roofing are simply some of the construction materials already available in Europe. The hemp based construction materials are stronger, non-flammable, waterproof, insect resistant, and more elastic, providing greater protection in hurricanes. Think of the cost benefit when we don’t have to import, but can “grow our building materials” on each island.

Industrial hemp has substantial environmental benefits. Hemp is grown with little or no insecticides, fungicides or herbicides. The crop’s deep root system aerates the soil. Its rapid growth and dense foliage inhibits weeds. And, of great importance to the agricultural community, Canadian tests showed hemp, used as a rotational crop, dramatically reduced nematodes by 80% in the subsequent soybean crop.

Is there a demand for hemp products? Yes, and it’s increasing rapidly. First, look at the growth in acreage. In just the last seven years, cultivation of industrial hemp in Western Europe has quadrupled to meet the demand. The retail market similarly is booming. United States gross retail sales of hemp products are climbing from $50 million in 1996 toward the $100 million mark due to consumer interest.

A recent economic analysis looked at economic benefits for agricultural areas. The College of Business and Economics, University of Kentucky report titled, “Economic Impact of Industrial Hemp in Kentucky,” disclosed dramatic results. In one rural area scenario, the authors conclude that 771 full-time equivalent jobs would be created with $17,600,00 in worker earnings. John Gilderbloom, Ph. D. in the foreword to the report states: if one-fourth of Kentucky’s 90 agricultural counties entered the industrial hemp business, then approximately 17,348 jobs would be created with worker earnings up to $396 million. Other than with two tobacco crops, the Kentucky report concluded returns will be greater for industrial hemp than for any other crop. Extrapolate to Hawaii this vast potential of industrial hemp to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Maybe this is why political commentator Dan Boylan in MidWeek advised the governor to try hemp to diversify the economy.

Why is there opposition when thirty industrialized nations (including Canada, England, France, and Germany) permit it to be grown? Why is there opposition when hemp was an important crop from the founding of our Nation (and accepted as payment of taxes in colonial America) up through World War II and until the late 1950s? We all know about government regulations and what they can do to hurt businesses. As the federal government moved to control marijuana, it failed to distinguish in its regulations between hallucinogenic Cannabis and the non-hallucinogenic Cannabis sativa L. industrial hemp. The hallucinogenic element in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Industrial hemp has approximately .03 THC and is non-euphoric, while marijuana has a THC level of 3-20%. Just as a person can’t get drunk from drinking mouthwash (which contains alcohol), a person can’t get “high” from smoking industrial hemp or products made from the crop.

The Legislative Reference Bureau contacted law enforcement officials in Canada, Germany, France and England to inquire if they had experienced problems since industrial hemp crops were legalized. All responded “no.” As the England Drugs Inspectorate branch explained, the two plants are easily distinguished from the ground or air: industrial hemp is 15′-18′ tall and is planted densely in close rows, while marijuana is planted as a widely spaced short bush. In addition, industrial hemp is planted using .03 or less THC certified seeds. Those plants will cross-pollinate with marijuana crops, lowering the THC content of the illegal crops’ seed. Industrial hemp actually will drive away marijuana growers.

Plans are in progress to plant industrial hemp variety trials in Hawaii in 1999 with appropriate permits to develop varieties for Hawaii’s latitude. Further research will be done on hemp’s resistance to termite infestation.

For Hawaii, industrial hemp means economic development, a new crop for farmers and jobs for employees in local companies that will be producing some of the 25,000 hemp-based products for local and world markets. The governor is correct that industrial hemp will help our economy. Representative Cynthia Thielen is Ranking Minority Member on the Judiciary, Consumer Protection and Commerce, Energy and Environmental Protection, and Water and Land Use committees.

Sponsored by:
Rep. Cynthia Thielen
State Capital Bldg. Room 443
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 568-6480

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