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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, October 6, 2003

Give hemp another chance in Hawai'i

Four years ago, Hawai'i passed an innovative law to see whether growing industrial hemp could boost agriculture and small business in the Islands, as it has in nations where it's a legal crop.

The result was the Hawai'i Industrial Hemp Research Project, backed by Republican state Rep. Cynthia Thielen.

But the experiment has failed, primarily thanks to bureaucratic hurdles put up by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Hawai'i's one-man hemp research operation shut down last week after being saddled for two years with the DEA's temporary permit status. The limbo made it tough to attract nonprofit and private-sector money.

The U.S. Justice Department considers hemp a threat that will open the doors to legalized marijuana.

But though hemp and marijuana are botanical cousins, their uses are miles apart. Hemp has less than one percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. Its robust fibers produce sturdy clothing, shoes, building materials and rope, and its seeds are used in organic foods and cosmetics.

Researchers in Hawai'i have been studying which hemp varieties were best suited to Hawai'i's climate. If the DEA ever lightens up, perhaps they can pick up where they left off and launch a potentially lucrative industry.