Hawaii Hemp Overview

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What Is Hemp?

In Hawaii and the United States, hemp is legally defined as cannabis containing lower than 0.3% THC. Although part of the same family and sometimes mistaken for the other, hemp and marijuana are varieties of the cannabis plant with different characteristics, uses, benefits, and legal statuses. Hemp has low levels of the intoxicating cannabinoid known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), for which marijuana is popular. Cannabis with THC levels exceeding the 0.3% limit stipulated by law is referred to as marijuana under the United States Controlled Substance Act (CSA).

Physically, hemp plants are tall and slim. The leaves are skinny and commonly found near the top of the stalk alongside the trichome-rich buds. The colors of hemp plants vary; some are lighter green, while others are greyish blue. In contrast, marijuana plants are typically short, dense, and bushy, with broad leaves along the stalks. Indica strains of marijuana may grow as high as six feet, while sativa strains may reach up to twenty feet. Hybrid variants of the marijuana plant may be short or tall depending on the dominant strain (indica or sativa).

Many people use the terms "hemp" and "industrial hemp" interchangeably. "Industrial," as appended in front of hemp, is typically used to delineate the application of the hemp plant and its products for industrial purposes such as its uses in building construction, textiles, and the food industry. Commonly used hemp plant parts and derivatives include:

  • Hemp Flowers: Hemp flower is the budding part of the hemp plant. It contains low amounts of THC and is known to be effective in treating human anxiety disorders and may also reduce PTSD symptoms in persons who do not respond to traditional treatments 
  • Hemp Seeds: Hemp seeds are seeds obtained from the hemp plant. They are small brown-colored nuts rich in fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acid, and omega-6 fatty acid 
  • Hemp Milk: Hemp milk is produced by blending water with hemp seeds. The protein levels in hemp milk are typically higher than in beef or any protein powder. The presence of omega-6 fatty acids in hemp milk provides anti-inflammatory effects on its users. Hemp milk is safe for consumption, even for children and persons who are THC-intolerant
  • Hemp Hearts: Hemp hearts are de-shelled hemp seeds sometimes also referred to as hulled hemp seeds. Research has shown that hemp hearts help improve heart health, reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, improve cognitive function, provide relief for constipation, and assist in the formation of stronger bones
  • Hemp Oil: Hemp oil, sometimes called hemp seed oil, is produced by cold-pressing hemp seeds, producing an omega-rich oil. Many individuals use hemp seed oil topically or orally as a natural pain reliever. It possesses anti-inflammatory characteristics that may help patients suffering from severe illnesses, autoimmune diseases, or injuries
  • Hemp Extract: The extract is created by crushing hemp flowers. Hemp extract may be used to reduce anxiety and stress, as well as a pain reliever with little adverse effects in chronic pain

Is Hemp Legal in Hawaii?

Yes. In 1999, Hawaii enacted Act 305 (HB 32), which sought to determine whether hemp was a suitable crop capable of contributing to the future viability of the state's agricultural industry. Under HB 32, privately funded industrial hemp research may be conducted in Hawaii only when the state Department of Public Safety issues a controlled substance registration and the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration issues a federally controlled substance registration for research on the agronomic potential of hemp.

In 2014, the United States introduced the Agricultural Bill, also called the Farm Bill to allow state hemp pilot programs, departments of agriculture, and institutions of higher learning to cultivate hemp for research purposes only. Similarly, Hawaii enacted SB 2175 in 2014, authorizing the Dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to establish a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program. Hence, SB 2175 authorizes the growing of industrial hemp for certain purposes under specific conditions as outlined in the Act statutes.

The United States government improved on the 2014 Farm Bill by introducing another Farm Bill in 2018, which expanded on the provisions of the previous farm bill. Although the 2014 Farm Bill established a legal definition for hemp by setting the permissible THC threshold at 0.3% by dry weight, at the time of the Bill's drafting, all cannabis types were still classified as Schedule I Controlled Substances. The 2018 Farm Bill declared hemp an agricultural commodity and permitted the cultivation of the plant for commercial purposes. The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the DEA's Schedule I Controlled Substances list and authorized the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to administer the development of hemp policies.

Hawaii enacted SB 1052 in 2018, legalizing hemp and making the existing temporary industrial hemp pilot program a permanent program. Act 14, signed into law in August 2020, also legalized the cultivation of hemp in Hawaii through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Domestic Hemp Production program. Per Act 14, from November 1, 2020, Hawaiians interested in growing hemp must obtain hemp production licenses from the USDA and comply with other requirements for hemp cultivation.

Per the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp and hemp products may be transported across state lines. Hence, hemp and hemp products in Hawaii may be transported inter-island, intra-island, or exported. However, for commercial hemp operations in Hawaii, only hemp producers licensed by USDA may transport hemp outside of a field of legal cultivation per state law. The following hemp parts may be transported:

  • Live hemp plants, propagative parts of the hemp plant, and viable seeds
  • Harvested hemp leaf material in raw botanical form (including dried)
  • Harvested hemp leaf floral material in raw botanical form (including dried)

Note that transportation must be reported ahead using an HP-1 Transportation Report form. However, a report is not required for the transportation of the following hemp materials:

  • Retted fiber
  • Non-viable seed
  • Mature hemp stalk material
  • Hemp products or processed hemp

Hawaii requires any transportation of hemp to abide by all applicable laws and regulations, including but not limited to state requirements regarding the importation, inter-island transportation, or exportation of live seed, live plants, and cut flowers. Review further instructions on the planned transportation page of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture for more information on the importation, exportation, and in-state movement of live seed, live plants, and cut or fresh hemp plant materials.

Completed transportation reports may be sent by electronic mail to hemp@hawaii.gov as a single attachment or by mail to:

Quality Assurance Division

ATTN: Hemp

1851 Auiki Street

Honolulu, HI 96819

Persons sending hemp transportation reports by mail must ensure that the report arrives three business days before the planned transportation.

What Hemp Products are Legal in Hawaii?

Under Hawaii hemp regulations, hemp products may only be sold in the state in the form of tablets, capsules, soft gels, gelcaps and liquids, powders, tinctures, and topicals. The state hemp regulations prohibit vape liquids containing hemp-derived cannabinoids, CBD gummies, and drinks. Hawaii bans hemp-containing products that may be introduced into the body through the ears, eyes, nasal cavities, or other non-oral entry routes. Food and beverages, including bottled water containing hemp-derivatives like CBD and other cannabinoids, are prohibited. It is illegal to smoke hemp or sell edible hemp products in Hawaii.

Can A Municipality Restrict Hemp Cultivation or Processing in Hawaii?

There are no specific regulations within the Hawaii hemp laws authorizing local governments to restrict or block individuals or commercial hemp operations within their borders.

How to Get a License to Grow or Process in Hawaii

If you intend to grow or process hemp in Hawaii, you must obtain a hemp production license from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, to be eligible to obtain a USDA-issued hemp production license, you must comply with certain state requirements. You must not:

  • Be convicted of a felony offense related to a controlled substance under federal or state law for a period of 10 years preceding the application date. Any key participant in your application is also required to be free of drug offense-related convictions within the same period
  • Propose to grow hemp in any other location or zone other than in the state agricultural district
  • Propose to grow hemp within 500 feet of a pre-existing real property comprising a playground, school, or childcare facility
  • Propose to grow hemp within 500 feet of a pre-existing house, dwelling unit, residential unit, or other residential structure not owned or controlled by the applicant
  • Propose to grow hemp in any house, dwelling unit, residential apartment, or other residential structure

You may complete a USDA hemp production license application through the USDA Hemp eManagement Platform (HeMP) or by completing the USDA Hemp Application form. To apply through the HeMP, you need to create an account on the portal. You may view the USDA eAuth sign-up video for detailed instructions on the HeMP account creation process. Applications are accepted on the portal on a rolling basis throughout the year. Note that you must provide a copy of an FBI criminal history report for yourself and all key participants, if applicable. You may review the information on the FBI criminal history report page of the FBI website for instructions on obtaining criminal reports from the FBI. Your FBI report must not be dated more than 60 days from the hemp producer application submission date. For more information on obtaining a USDA hemp production license, review the USDA Producer HeMP User Guide or contact the Department at farmbill.hemp@usda.gov or (202) 720-2491.

Alternatively, a completed paper application may be sent by mail with a copy of the FBI criminal history report to: 

USDA/AMS/Specialty Crops Program

Hemp Branch

470 L’Enfant Plaza S.W.

Post Office Box 23192

Washington D.C. 20026

If you intend to obtain a hemp processor registration in Hawaii, you must complete the hemp processor application form. The completed form, applicable registration fee ($500), and a USDA-issued hemp production license must be mailed to: 

DOH Food and Drug Branch

99-945 Halawa Valley Street

Aiea, HI 96701 

How Much Does a License to Grow or Process Hemp Cost in Hawaii?

The USDA, the agency issuing licenses for hemp cultivation in Hawaii, charges no fee for the USDA hemp production license. However, upon receiving notification from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) for successfully applying through the USDA HeMP portal, an applicant for a hemp processor registration must pay a nonrefundable fee of $500 by business check or cashier's check payable to "Hawaii Department of Health." Note that the USDA-issued hemp production license is valid for three years, but the $500 HDOA hemp processor registration fee must be paid annually to maintain eligibility to continue processing hemp in the state.

How to Grow Hemp in Hawaii

Although not a rule, it is recommended that you plant hemp seeds between April and June due to the soil and climate conditions experienced in that period. During those months, you will likely have a soil temperature above 50 degrees Fahrenheit in full sunlight. To grow hemp in Hawaii, follow these steps:

  • Invest in good quality seeds: The first step in cultivating hemp is sourcing reliable and durable cultivars or seeds. This is important because the cultivar determines the amount of CBD, THC, or CBG (Cannabigerol) the hemp plant will produce
  • Prepare the soil and setup: Although hemp may grow in practically any kind of soil, it thrives in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil rich in organic matter. If you are growing your hemp plants hydroponically, you are unlikely to need to adjust the soil. Adding manure or nitrogen-rich homemade compost may transform poor soil into a hemp-friendly substrate
  • Plant and maintain the plants, and the grow area: Follow the instructions provided by the seed provider because certain hemp seed types may require additional attention during this stage. Still, a reasonable rule of thumb is to germinate only dark, brown-colored seeds. Remove any hemp seeds that have gone white or gray from your supply since those will not germinate

After germination, place your seeds in your substrate or loamy starting pots. When they reach a height of around one foot, it is safe to move them to their assigned containers. They will shortly develop into hemp plants

  • Harvest: Hemp plants that have reached maturity will flower and produce many seeds. If your plants have not yet begun to bloom, they are too young to harvest. If you are cultivating hemp exclusively for CBD, you should harvest the plants when the flowers have become a frosty white hue. This indicates that the CBD-rich trichomes are ready to be processed into CBD oils or distillates

Hemp plants are typically ready for harvest in 3-5 months. However, the length of the period depends on the purpose of the hemp harvest. If you want to make hemp fiber, the plants may be ready for harvest in about 60 days. Hemp cultivated for making CBD may take between 120 and 140 days to be ready for harvest.

Note that hemp cultivation is prohibited within 500 feet of residential units, playgrounds, schools, and childcare facilities. Hemp cultivation may only be carried out in a state agricultural district. The United States Environmental Protection Agency approves 58 biopesticides and one conventional pesticide for use on hemp plants. For more information about pesticides that may be used on hemp, contact the pesticide branch of the HDOA at (808) 973-9401 or email hdoapestreg@hawaii.gov.

Where Can You Buy Hemp Flower in Hawaii?

Hawaii, in July 2020, prohibited the sale and use of smokable hemp flowers in the state. Hence, you cannot legally purchase smokable hemp flower in the state.

Hemp vs. THC

Hemp and THC are not the same. THC is a psychotropic chemical compound found in cannabis. Since hemp is from the cannabis family, THC is also found in the hemp plant, but only in trace amounts. Therefore, while hemp is a plant, THC is a cannabinoid - one of over 500 phytochemicals found in the Cannabis sativa plant. THC gets consumers high, while hemp, which only contains small amounts of THC, is unlikely to intoxicate users. Hawaii permits the sale of hemp-derived THC products as long as the THC content in such products does not exceed 0.3%.

Hemp vs. CBD

Hemp and CBD are not the same. Hemp is a plant of the cannabis family, while CBD, also called cannabidiol, is a chemical compound found in the hemp plant. CBD is non-intoxicating and has various uses, such as treating physical and mental conditions, including pain, addiction, depression, and nausea. CBD is safe for consumption and is available in tinctures, oils, and food. Hawaii permits residents aged 18 or older to purchase any amount of hemp-derived CBD, provided the products do not contain more than 0.3% THC. Also, consumers are not required to provide recommendations from their physicians to obtain hemp-derived CBD.

Hemp Applications

Besides its more commonly known medicinal uses, hemp can be used in making:

  • Textile: Hemp textiles are long-lasting, multifunctional, biodegradable, and very simple to manufacture. Hemp fibers are more resistant to weather variations and UV radiations than cotton and silk and may be integrated with other materials to produce comfortable and attractive clothing hybrids
  • Building Materials: Hemp products are valuable construction materials since they are long-lasting, lightweight, and inexpensive to produce. Furthermore, hemp-based construction materials are fire-, water-, and rodent-proof, and their strength and flexibility make them perfect for resisting damage from earthquakes, floods, and other natural catastrophes
  • Fuel: Due to its short growing period, capacity to replace soil, and 11% oxygen content, hemp-derived biofuel is affordable and ecologically friendly (no sulfur emissions like other fuel types). Furthermore, hemp fuel may be able to prolong the life of many automobiles due to its better lubricating qualities when compared to gasoline
  • Paper: Hemp paper is a type of paper that is made entirely or mainly of pulp derived from industrial hemp fibers. Most hemp papers are specialty papers such as cigarette paper, banknotes, and specialized filter papers. Compared to wood pulp, hemp pulp has four to five times the fiber length, a much-reduced lignin component, superior tear resistance, and tensile strength
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