Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Funding difficulties
close trial hemp farm

Investors hesitated because
the DEA would only issue
the project interim permits

A 4-year-old experimental hemp farm on a quarter acre of land in Wahiawa has been shut down because investors declined to continue funding the project.

State Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kaneohe-Kailua), who has promoted hemp as an industrial product, said the small farm was closed because the federal Drug Enforcement Administration would only give the farm a temporary permit and investors were not sure of the project's viability.

"The DEA's action on the temporary permits put the project into a nebulous status and it raised questions," Thielen said.

The state Legislature in 1999 authorized the project to investigate the use of hemp for industrial and commercial purposes. Former Gov. Ben Cayetano had welcomed the proposal and even joined in planting the first hemp plants.

The farm started with a $200,000 grant from Alterna Professional Hair Care Products, which markets a hemp-based shampoo, and then a series of smaller private donations, Thielen said.

The DEA and the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy initially opposed the research project, saying hemp farming would send the wrong signal to young people and would allow marijuana farmers to hide their crops with industrial hemp plants.

Because hemp is a relative of marijuana -- containing only traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, the hallucinogenic found in marijuana -- it is illegal to cultivate.

But Thielen said: "You could roll a joint as big as a telephone pole and you wouldn't get high."

Her son, Peter, who manufactures hemp clothes on Kauai, had convinced Thielen that it would be a good alternative crop for Hawaii, but Thielen says the project has closed.

"We gave it a valiant try, but ultimately, because of inaction by the federal government, we were unable to continue. Canada and France and other countries will be making the money," Thielen said.

The decision to cancel the project was made by David West, the hemp project director and principal investigator, who voluntarily surrendered his hemp growing license.

Briane Grey, DEA assistant special agent in charge, said yesterday that the DEA supervised the destruction of the remaining six pounds of hemp seeds and hemp plants at the Wahiawa facility.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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