By Diane Ako
HONOLULU – How should the state regulate industrial hemp? The federal law making hemp legal is now in effect, but there are no federal guidelines for how to make or sell it, particularly the very popular CBD oils and products.
Is industrial hemp Hawaii’s next cash crop? “Hemp is debatably the most valuable natural resource we have. it can be used for biofuels, textiles, like the clothing I’m wearing today,” says Grant Overton. The company he co-founded, Vespucci Collective, makes and sells hemp clothing. Its farm is about to start growing hemp on a farm in Haleiwa.
Overton’s part of a rapidly growing market. He says $700 million worth of hemp products sold in the US in 2018.
Hemp advocates say there are about 60,000 products that can be made with hemp, like clothing or cannabis-derived CBD products.
It’s not just businesses who are interested; lawmakers are too, like US Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), who said after the Farm Bill passed, “We want diversified agriculture, but also need something to take up the acreage when HC&S shut down, and Maui Land and Pine plantation shut down. We need a big ag product and hemp has plenty of potential.”
Here’s the catch. While the federal government did pass the Farm Bill on December 20 making hemp and its products legal, there’s still some confusion over how the state should set rules for this crop.
That’s because the FDA still regulates hemp products like the popular CBD oils (made from a cannabis compound), food, dietary supplements, cosmetics, and drugs. It considers those illegal to sell as “interstate commerce.”
“Ingestability and manufacturing of those substances have to be clarified,” Overton says. KITV4 asked, “So, people aren’t breaking the law if they’re buying CBD oils?” “As of now, no,” Overton, who is also a board member of the newly formed Hawaii Hemp Farmers Association, clarified.
The feds have 120 days to come up with rules. In the meantime, at least one state lawmaker is helping set state guidelines.
Senator Mike Gabbard (D-20 Kapolei, Makakilo, parts of Ewa, Kalaeloa, Waipahu) says he’s working with the state Department of Agriculture now, so that “as these things are rolled out at the federal level, bam. We can just say, ‘Here we go.'”
The state Department of Health says, “DOH will work with the Department of Agriculture and Legislature to determine where best to establish CBD statutory and regulatory authority regardless of its (CBD) source (hemp or cannabis).”
Sen. Gabbard is a huge proponent of the crop. When asked about the rules regarding CBD, he smiles and says, “I think it’s going to be fine.
Sen. Gabbard says he is “working with the state Department of Agriculture on a hemp bill for 2019 and has a meeting set up with them next Wednesday to work out some details.”
Farmers like Overton hope the Senator’s right. Overton estimates by 2025, the market for CBD sales alone, is expected to grow to $22 billion in US sales. He says he’d like Hawaii to share in that economic boom.
That’s where the Grant Overton, who himself is a hemp licensee, says it’s working with the state to craft regulations for the industry. He’s hoping to work out the kinks sooner than later, because he says hemp is a hugely profitable business that would benefit the state’s economy.
Overton says in 2018, there were $700 million worth of hemp products sold in the US, and estimates by 2025, the cash crop will be worth $600 million to $22 billion in US sales. He says he’d like Hawaii to share in that market growth.