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Hawaii Hemp Industry Stalled Following Veto of New Bill

Matt Barton
University of Kentucky Ag Communications

Gov. David Ige announced vetoes of 18 bills passed in 2019, including one that would have loosened the restrictions on growing hemp in Hawaii. Farmers are frustrated, but the governor says patience is required to stay in line with federal rules.

The state Department of Agriculture began issuing permits to grow up to 10 acres of hemp in June 2018. But in December, U.S. Congress substantially loosened the restrictions on hemp by removing the plant from the federal government’s Schedule 1 controlled substances list. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has not yet published the administrative rules governing the cultivation of hemp, and Hawaii’s laws were written to be in compliance with the older, stricter federal rules. 

That led Hawaii’s chief executive to veto S.B. 1353 passed by lawmakers that would have loosened state-level restrictions on the cultivation of hemp. In states like Oregon and Colorado, industrial hemp is already in full bloom.


Ige said he wants to make sure that any laws passed in Hawaii are aligned with the still-unpublished USDA rules, but many farmers are frustrated, including Ray Maki on Kauai.


“Just Oregon alone is over 100,000 acres, grown as a billion-dollar industry. There's a big market for [hemp] flower on the mainland -- you know, I can get $200 to $300 per pound,” Maki said.


The veto has left many interested in developing Hawaii’s hemp industry in a state of uncertainty, according to Steve Rose, who runs the Maui Hemp Institute.


“We were poised to move ahead with starting to grow hemp commercially. There were many multimillion-dollar projects on all the islands that were being planned and now I’ve heard of people of pulling out because of the legislation.”


Ige says the Hawaii Department of Agriculture has a team standing by to begin drafting the state’s hemp rules once USDA publishes its own policies. 


Scott Saiki, speaker of the state House of Representatives, says lawmakers will be watching to make sure the administration makes good on that promise and will introduce new legislation if they are not satisfied with the pace of the rollout.


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