October signals the end of Hawaii’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program which has lasted for two years. The State is set to embrace a federal hemp production program that will see farmers applying for their licenses via the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Hawaii farmers can now grow commercial hemp once they obtained licensing through the USDA thanks to a bill passed by the State legislature and signed into law by Gov. David Ige. While the new USDA program legalizes statewide hemp production, some of Hawaii hemp farmers are concerned about the program.
While the Ige administration working with the legislature ensured there was an alternative before October 31, Congress had already extended the deadlines allowing States’ pilot programs to run until 2021.
Hawaii has seen a dry spell in the agricultural sector after the removal of pineapple and sugar crops from its fields. However, hemp was poised to take over the room left behind by the two cash crops. A much welcome venture to supplement the State’s economy, which continues to suffer as its primary industry, tourism, remains paralyzed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But now, a portion of the farmers are concerned that the federal program is too costly to be commercially viable. While the federal program is meant to be less stringent and straightforward, these hemp growers fear it contains cost-prohibitive clauses such as the loss of licensing when a crop records ‘too high’ THC content for the third time.
The disgruntled farmers are also worried that the USDA program won’t protect the interests of local farmers and that the lack of local oversight means that outsider companies could swoop in and take advantage of the Hawaiian prestige.
According to Gail Baber, a local Hemp grower, the federal program sets up a precedence for hemp to be just a commodity extracted from the State.
However, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture doesn’t believe everyone has misgivings over the USDA regulations. According to them, many farmers welcome the move.
A statement by hemp program coordinator for Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture, Shelley Choy, says that the disgruntled growers don’t represent the majority of state growers who are happy to part with the restrictive pilot program.
Still, for any changes to occur Hawaii hemp growers have no choice but to wait for the next legislative session in 2021.