Selling and growing recreational cannabis may be legal in California, but counties all over the state are struggling with new laws regarding the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Tulare County is just the latest in a slew of local governments to put a temporary moratorium on the growing of hemp. A 45-day moratorium was initially passed March 26 on the recommendation of outgoing Tulare County Ag Commissioner Marilyn Wright. The moratorium was extended at the April 30 Tulare County Board of Supervisor (TCBOS) meeting for another 22 months and 15 days.
During the March 26 meeting, Wright said that the crop could breach one of the top 10 of the county’s most valuable crops within a year, if it were regulated, but she added that neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the California Department of Agriculture has issued regulations on the crop, making it a gamble for counties to move forward.
Only San Luis Obispo and Imperial have approved the crop, while 15 counties have issued temporary moratoriums because of the lack of regulations said Wright.
The 2014 Farm Bill defined industrial hemp as plants containing less than three-tenths of a percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the chemical in marijuana that produces psychoactive effects . The low concentration of THC makes hemp unsuitable for marijuana production, which remains federally illegal.
The 2014 bill let states cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes. This bill allowed for the research of industrial hemp but did not legalize commercial production of hemp
The 2018 Farm bill included the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which passed with bipartisan support. This act makes hemp legal on a federal level. States may now choose how to move forward in regulating the industry.
California, along with all states, has to submit a plan to the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on how it intends to license and regulate the production of hemp. The USDA must then approve California’s plan. Neither of those steps have been taken, complicating the issue of separate counties allowing the commercial production of hemp.
According to Food and Agriculture Code 81006 (b), “Clandestine cultivation of industrial hemp is prohibited. All plots shall have adequate signage indicating they are industrial hemp.”
New Commissioner agrees with Wright
Newly appointed Tulare County Ag Commissioner Tom Tucker advised the BOS at its April 30 meeting to adopt the extension of the moratorium of hemp production.
Pest control and anxiety that farmers will abuse the lack of regulations are the main reasons for hesitation to move forward with production. Tucker expressed concern over zoning, disease-carrying insects, and the concealing of illegal cannabis in industrial hemp fields.
According to Tucker, “Due to the fact that Industrial Hemp and cannabis are derivatives of the same plant, Cannabis sativa L., the physical appearance of Industrial Hemp and cannabis are virtually indistinguishable. Absent a laboratory-performed chemical analysis of the THC content, the two plants cannot be readily distinguished.”
Though recreational cannabis is allowed in Tulare County, the supervisors are not alone in their trepidation. The Ag Advisory Committee spoke in favor of the moratorium and several other counties have adopted similar policies.
In a 2018 Hemp Industry Daily report, Shasta and San Joaquin counties were both listed as prohibiting the cultivation of industrial hemp. Yolo County recently followed in their steps.
“The nation’s most populous state has yet to license a single hemp grower, deferring to local authorities,” stated the report. According to Hemp Industry Daily, California has over 68,000 registered marijuana growers.
“It may surprise some that California’s hemp industry is still very nascent,” said the report. “California didn’t start a commercial hemp program until 2016, when voters approved hemp language that was tucked into a larger measure legalizing recreational marijuana.”
Six months into the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, states and counties are left confused and wondering how to proceed without clear regulations. Supervisor Eddie Valero showed some frustration with the issue.
“Like other counties across California, we sit here today with significant uncertainty and uneasiness around state regulation of this market, around the odor, around pollination, and around THC testing protocols. With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, we as a state in general and as a county in particular are left in limbo trying to figure out how to regulate hemp production,” said Valero.
He also made clear that 22 months is the longest time the moratorium could take effect, not any indication that the regulations will take that long to arrive. Supervisor Kuyler Crocker echoed his sentiments.
“We’ve talked about this several times already with the study session and with the initial temporary ordinance, so to Supervisor Valero’s point and to the comments made previously, the 22 months is a maximum amount we can have the interim moratorium before we have to make a permanent moratorium,” said Crocker.
Meanwhile, Fresno and Kings Counties are exploring options to allow industrial hemp cultivation and manufacturing, but one farmer was able to explain what it’s like operating without a clear directive in a new industry. They were interviewed on the condition of anonymity.
“The chance of going to jail is high,” said the farmer. “The chance of going broke is high. There’s a low chance for stable genetics, and there’s no stable base for buyers.”