Hemp Crops in Hawaii Too High for Regulators

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HONOLULU, Hawaii – Hawaiian hemp growers are feeling the challenges of a problem that recreational cannabis growers pray for—too much THC in their crops. A report in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday said that half of Hawaii’s hemp crops cultivated in 2019 were destroyed, due to high levels of THC.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive compound in cannabis; one of more than 200 cannabinoids found in cannabis and hemp. The legal level of THC for hemp and hemp products is less than 0.3 percent; cannabis can be classified as “hemp” when it contains less than 0.3 percent THC.


However, officials in Hawaii cite exceptional growing conditions, unique to the islands, which may be resulting in higher levels of cannabinoids.

“Genetics, which work in other states, don’t necessarily work the same here and it is all experimental,” Shelley Choy, director of the Hemp Pilot Program at Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture, said in Associated Press media reports.

“It’s honestly expected and fairly routine, in the sense that it is really hard to grow a plant that is 0.3 percent or below, and it is also really difficult in Hawaii because we have a really unique climate and photo-period as compared to other states,” Choy explained further.

Under the current pilot program, thirty licenses for hemp cultivation had been granted. In 2019, crops at eighteen farms were destroyed due to high THC levels, while four were allowed to be labeled as “hemp” after they tested at lower levels of THC.

Officials also had approved specific strains (or varietals) for hemp cultivation, but now, growers have requested permission to use interstate seeds. Growers cited that hemp crops might fair better if cultivated from warm weather strains, as opposed to strains that have been developed in Europe or Canada.

Democratic Governor David Ige vetoed a legislative bill in July that would have created a permanent hemp program for Hawaii. Ige did sign a bill in July that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use.

Though medical marijuana was legalized in Hawaii in 2000, with regulation for medical marijuana product sales following in 2016, progress has been slow for the state’s hemp and medical cannabis industry.