Hanford council votes for hemp moratorium

One of the most fertile valleys in the United States can’t seem to make up its mind about hemp.

The federal government passed the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp and left the rule making up to the individual states. California’s regulations regarding hemp is addressed in AB228 but hasn’t made it out of committee.

That means the cities and counties are on their own.

Hanford and Tulare County voted that they need more time to develop ordinances to regulate the industry. Kings County gave approval with some restrictions to growing hemp.

But one of the most conservative areas in California, Kern County, has given hemp the green light. Cerise Montanio, Deputy Director of Kern’s Agricultural Commissioner’s Office told the Bakersfield Californian. “We don’t have a moratorium. We don’t have ordinances,” she said. “We are allowing it.”

During an August 20 Hanford public hearing to extend the emergency ordinance to restrict the production of hemp, the city council voted for a 10-month and 15-day extension.

The vote for the moratorium came over the objections of Council Member John Draxler.

Draxler, like Kern County, didn’t understand the need for regulating a legal crop. “I’m just a fan of private enterprise and don’t like cities to intervene.” He added that the city didn’t have to have a perfect ordinance right now in order to allow farmers to start planting hemp.

The city could always pass an ordinance later, he said.

Community Development Director Darlene Mata adopted the same stance as the Tulare County Board of Supervisors.

She advised the Hanford City Council that it needed to have in-place regulations such as the testing of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels, zoning, and change the municipal code before it could allow the cultivation of hemp.

Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever said that industrial hemp was indistinguishable from marijuana and that his fear was that growers would take advantage of a laissez faire attitude by the city as a loophole to grow recreational pot.

To save staff time, Mata was hoping to adopt parts of the state’s ordinance once it was passed by the California legislature.

Mata said the city is still in the process of finishing the recreational cannabis and food truck ordinances and can’t get to writing the hemp ordinance until those have progressed.

Mata added that it takes at least four months for a new ordinance to get through the planning commission and city council.

Mata said the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s anticipated ordinance will establish the percent of THC but has written nothing about the manufacturing side of hemp, which the city needs.

The drying and manufacturing of hemp products is what produces a strong smell and was one of the reasons Hanford has not allowed outdoor grows of recreational pot.

Mata said that the company HDL paid for staff time to write the ordinance concerning the growth and manufacture of recreational pot and that maybe hemp farmers could do the same.

Elisa Stewart, from UC Merced, spoke during the public hearing against Hanford’s extending the moratorium.

“June is planting time and getting seed is challenging,” she said. “If you want to be ready for 2020 you need to allow people time to get up to speed.”

Her company grows 210 acres of hemp outside of Chowchilla in coordination with the University of California Merced for research.

She said her company would be open to helping pay for staff time for Hanford to write its ordinance.

The final vote was 5-0 to extend the moratorium on hemp cultivation but advised the staff to pursue outside help in completing the ordinance. The city council can only approve one more 12-month moratorium before it has to allow the cultivation of hemp.

As for Kern County? It has 6,864 cultivated acres of hemp, eclipsing all other growers in the state.

“I’d like to see this become a crop on your top-10 list in Kern County,” said Arvin-area hemp grower Kent Stenderup to the Californian.

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