Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Hearing opposition to allowing industrial hemp production, Humboldt County’s Planning Commission appears poised to recommend extending a temporary ban on it.
Potential risks to the cannabis industry were highlighted as the commission held a workshop on hemp production at its Oct. 3 meeting.
The 2018 federal farm bill opened a regulatory pathway for industrial hemp but the county’s Board of Supervisors approved a temporary ban on it and then extended it to mid-December. The bans were approved to allow time for drafting regulations.
The commission was presented with various regulatory drafts, all of them focused on medicinal hemp, which is less land-intensive than hemp crops for seed and fiber production.
Planning staff is proposing the establishment of Industrial Hemp Management Zones in agriculture-exclusive areas totaling 28,000 acres county wide. The greater Arcata area accounts for 6,000 acres of it and the majority of acreage – almost 20,000 acres – is in the unincorporated areas surrounding Ferndale.
Other areas include Glendale/Blue Lake, Orick, South Eureka and Rio Dell.
A range of regulatory approaches were described by planning staff but during a public comment session, production of hemp was discouraged by cannabis farmers due to the potential for cross-pollination and introduction of pests.
Humboldt wholesale cannabis distributor Isaiah O’donnell also owns a 100-acre hemp farm in southern Oregon and is “one hundred percent pro-hemp.” But he told commissioners that “it is not suitable for Humboldt County.”
Saying that his 100-acre farm is “on the very small spectrum” of hemp production, O’donnell said the Applegate area of southern Oregon was “the equivalent of Humboldt County’s cannabis industry” several years ago.
“When they allowed hemp in there, it absolutely ruined 30 years of genetics and breeding in the THC marketplace,” he continued. “In fact, there are no cannabis farms in the Applegate anymore.”
Craig Johnson of Southern Humboldt’s Alpenglow Farms said farmers in the Salmon Creek area dealt with aphid infestation this summer and “it wasn’t with the Salmon Creek cannabis aphid, it was the hemp aphid.”
He added, “As we move forward, I think we really, really need to move slowly and if you’re going to look at hemp, just hold the door at the moment.”
Those concerns were also expressed by several other speakers. Terra Carver of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance said her organization is against creating the hemp management zones but is “neutral” on allowing smaller grows of up to 5,000 square feet.
In other workshops held by the county, smaller industrial hemp grows were described as being unlikely to succeed.
Commissioner Mike Newman asked about restricting hemp to greenhouses to prevent cross-pollination. But Senior Planner Michael Richardson said that with greenhouses, there are generator, noise and light impacts that the county is trying to avoid.
Commissioners were wary of lifting the hemp ban. “Given all of the negative impacts that have been brought up tonight, I don’t really see growing anything in the coastal zone or the Yurok territory and the Wiyot territory,” said Commissioner Peggy O’Neill.
“Before staff spends a lot of time coming with lots of alternatives recommending different ways of how we can regulate this crop, we should have the discussion of whether or not we even want it in this county,” said Commissioner Brian Mitchell, whose comments were met with audience applause.
Small-scale medicinal hemp farming already takes place in the county under its current commercial cannabis ordinance and Commissioner Melanie McCavour suggested that’s sufficient.
The workshop was continued to the commission’s next meeting. “If we get the same outpouring of comments that we had tonight, it might be a fairly quick decision for us to make,” said Commission Chair Bob Morris.
McKinleyville cannabis hub: Also at the meeting, commissioners approved a permit for The Ganjery, LLC to include manufacturing and distribution in its activities at 1580 Nursery Way in McKinleyville.
The company already operates a retail cannabis dispensary at the shopping center there, near the intersection of Nursery Way and Central Avenue.
The new facilities will be set up near the dispensary but in different suites. The manufacturing will use cannabis from a variety of sources for production of edibles, tinctures, topical ointments and other infusion products.
Three full time employees would staff the facilities, which would operate daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The area is becoming a cannabis industry hub, as the Satori Wellness Center dispensary is sited within 600 feet and a permit for the associated Satori Café and Lounge was recently approved by the commission. Three permits for distribution, dispensary and manufacturing/indoor cultivation have also been approved for nearby sites.