County agrees to moratorium on cultivation of industrial hemp
After listening to a presentation by Merced County Ag Commissioner Dave Robinson, hearing public comment, and discussing it among themselves, the Merced County Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday a 45-day moratorium on the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Robinson became involved in hemp issues because hemp growers must register through their local county Agricultural Commission office.
“Most folks interested in cultivating hemp are interested in CBD production,” he said.
CBD is a chemical which some believe reduces anxiety and pain, and helps with movement disorders and cognition. Robinson said state Senate Bill 1409, effective on Jan. 1, provided hemp can be grown for CBD.
“There are those who believe it is very helpful, and there are studies on the value of CBD,” Robinson said. As to the validity of health benefit claims, the commissioner said it was not appropriate for him to comment.
Robinson did read an article in the Sierra Sun Times which provided a vision of what a business in Mariposa thinks can be made in profit by growing hemp, and he shared this information during his presentation.
The March 28 article was entitled “California Gold Announces Project to Propagate High-CBDHemp Seed in Mariposa County.”
It states, in part: “With the recent passage of the 2018 US Farm Bill, which removed federal prohibitions on the cultivation and sale of industrial hemp in the U.S., subject to compliance with applicable regulations, CGM’s [California Gold Mining, Inc.] management believes the timing of the county’s confirmation is a very positive development for shareholders. Industry research organizations have been projecting substantial growth in the hemp-derivedcannabinoid market over the next several years. One such organization, the BrightfieldGroup, published an article in September 2018 projecting the industrial hemp-derived CBDmarket could increase to over $22 billion by 2022.”
But the production of hemp is complicated. One of the issues Robinson must deal with is the hemp field crop is limited to three-tenths of 1 percent THC in the flowering tops and other parts of the plant.
If random testing finds that the hemp has between three-tenths of 1 percent and 1 percent THC, the hemp must have a second test.
If it goes above 1 percent, the Ag Commissioner’s office has to make sure the entire crop is destroyed, which would upset the grower who had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the crop.
Robinson commented that it would be the Ag Commissioner’s responsibility to have the hemp tested by sending a sample to an appropriate lab, but there are no approved labs currently.
Another important issue is where to locate the hemp crops because of the odor.
Robinson said, “We need time to plan how close to schools and residential areas 200 acres of hemp could be grown.”
During the meeting, he brought up another big concern — that marijuana could be grown disguised as hemp.
He said, “ Growing hemp for CBD production is very similar to growing cannabis for THC production. The type of hemp that is used to grow CBD oil is very similar to cannabis that is being grown for marijuana. The plants are almost indistinguishable. The only way you can distinguish hemp grown for CBD and cannabis grown for marijuana is to do a chemical test. That is why hemp has become more of an issue.”
Robinson was concerned about the cost to local government of enforcement for the Ag Commissioner, the Sheriff’s Department, and Code Enforcement.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke spoke adamantly at the meeting about his office having to deal with a rancher on the West Side who grew 194 acres of hemp that came back from testing well over the THC allotment, resulting in a week of 24-hour surveillance by the sheriff.
Several farmers speaking during public comment time expressed frustration with the supervisors’ decision to put a temporary halt on hemp production, one complaining that hemp is legal to grow and he wants to grow it now.
The farmers were irritated because the 45-day moratorium meant they couldn’t plant a hemp crop in Merced County this year.
During an interview with the Times, Robinson described the reason for the moratorium.
He explained, “At the federal level, the states are supposed to submit a state program to the federal government, but the federal government has not written the guidelines so that’s the first problem.
“The states are rolling out regulations, which have not been approved by the federal government, but the states haven’t released all of them. The first one is how to register to be a hemp grower, but the ones not produced are important things such as how to test the hemp for THC, and how to destroy the hemp if it has too high a level of THC.
“So, is it legal to grow hemp? Yes, but there’s a conflict between state and federal law, and it leaves room for counties to make a decision to allow hemp to be grown, or put on a moratorium on it until such time as all the laws and regulations are put in place.”
During discussion, Supervisor Scott Silveira opined, “The numbers sound too good to be true on what they can make. But I want to proceed full steam ahead so we have a plan in place with or without the state. I don’t want to see our people suffer because of the slow wheels of government.”
Both Supervisor Daron McDaniel and Supervisor Lee Lor supported the idea of a committee being developed to put a hemp production plan in place.
When asked how he thinks things will turn out, Robinson said, “The maximum number of days you can request under an urgency ordinance is 45 days. I indicated that a planning process should be done to address the concern as to where the hemp should be grown and that it would take longer than 45 days and it would necessitate coming back to the board to ask for an extension to January or February. The Board of Supervisors did not indicate a preference on that, but requested to have the issue come back to them in 45 days and they would make a determination at that time as to what they would do next.”