Admit it. When the subject of hemp comes up, some of us would think of two dudes in a Volkswagen bus selling scratchy cloth shirts, while a suspicious odor wafts out the back. Hemp has often been associated with and very often mistaken for pot and that simply isn't true. While the two plants are similar, the important difference is that hemp contains almost no THC. THC is what gives those who use marijuana the sought after high along with a case of the munchies.
In addition to lacking THC, hemp contains another substance, Cannabidiol, or CBD. This chemical actually reduces any effect that THC would have, so the very little that hemp contains would be negated by the large amounts of CBD the plant contains. The simple fact is that hemp is just one of the many varieties of the cannabis plant; marijuana is another. Still, the image persists that hemp is a plant grown for drug use, but one project in Hawaii hopes to change that.
In April 2015, a group of farmers, professors and politicians planted the first hemp seeds at the University of Hawaii Waimanalo Research Station as part of a experimental project begun under the auspices of the Agricultural Act of 2014. Part of the new law allows the planting of hemp for research purposes or industrial uses. In a press release in April, Clarence Baber, of the Hawaii Farmer's Union said, "Fuel, food and fiber is what we've always said. The fuel is one aspect, fiber is housing, and food is a big thing for all of us." While the 2014 law does not allow hemp to be grown for food, the project in Hawaii hopes to study the crop for other uses.
Fast forward to last week when researchers involved in the project were showing off ten feet tall hemp bushes that had flourished in almost no time. The lead researcher on the UH project Dr. Harry Ako called the plants incredible growth, "Crazy fast."
There are literally thousands of uses for hemp from clothing and paper products to biofuels and plastics and those involved in the project hope to convince lawmakers and the general public that hemp could revitalize the Hawaiian economy in both agricultural and entrepreneurial ways. In recent years the sugarcane and pineapple crops have declined, leaving farmers with little options for money-making crops. State Senator Mike Gabbard, who chairs Hawaii's Committee on Water, Land and Agriculture told Hawaii News Now, "This is an amazing plant. It's going to be a boon for Hawaii farmers, for the Hawaii economy."
Getting the plants to grow is only the first step. Hemp still cannot be grown legally for any purpose other than research and only then in tiny amounts. Cynthia Theilen, who serves in the Hawaii House of Representatives, said in an interview with Hawaii News Now, "There are a few, a very few number of legislators that still are afraid of a crop that won't get anyone high. Unfortunately, some of them were in key positions last year."
The University will now begin testing the plants, the oil and the stalks to see what uses can be made of it and how that might help the economy. Many in Hawaii hope that the seeds of a new economy have been planted alongside those of a plant that has been around for centuries. See the video below for more information.