Government regulation could delay permits for seed project

Though the enthusiasm and passion for getting involved in Hawaii’s young hemp industry was on display during Saturday’s conference, many in attendance also expressed concern about potential stumbling blocks in the path.

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Though the enthusiasm and passion for getting involved in Hawaii’s young hemp industry was on display during Saturday’s conference, many in attendance also expressed concern about potential stumbling blocks in the path.

The largest obstacle is a delay in securing necessary permits to import hemp seeds to Hawaii for the state Department of Agriculture’s new pilot program. These seeds would be distributed to up to three growers, who would develop a Hawaii-specific cultivar of hemp. A request for proposals for the project closed in May.

Funding for the seed project was allocated by the state Legislature, but if the permits are not secured by June 30, it will lapse and return to the general fund.

“We’re really on a deadline right now,” said Ka‘u farmer Greg Smith.

Shelley Choy, who works in the office of the chairman in the DOA, said the pilot program itself is not affected by the June deadline. Program rules will still be drafted and put out for public comment, and a program coordinator will still be hired.

“Hopefully, the (Drug Enforcement Administration) gives us our permit and we can actually import seed and have seed,” Choy said. “Then we can give out licenses and people can start planting.”

The DOA applied for its import permit in November 2016 and was told the process would take between six to eight weeks. It took about eight months for the state of Washington to get its permit.

Earlier this year, North Carolina purchased $200,000 of seed from Italy, but has not started its pilot program because of DEA delays with the import permit.

In 2014, the DEA refused to allow Kentucky, which was once the country’s leading hemp producer, to have an import permit. The state imported seed anyway, which was then confiscated by the DEA. A lawsuit followed (the permit was allowed two weeks later).

“We’re not going to take the risk of running it (the program) without a permit from (the DEA),” Choy said.

Should the permit arrive in time, the DOA also will need to find funding for a program inspector, who would be tasked with ensuring the tetrahydrocannabinol levels in Hawaii’s hemp crop remains below 0.3 percent. The Legislature funded the coordinator position but not the inspector.

The draft rules will need to be approved and signed by Gov. David Ige.

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Navigating the levels of bureaucracy is “extremely frustrating,” said Steve Sakala, owner of HICBD Organics. “But I stay hopeful. We are absolutely excited.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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