Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – A mapped hemp farming zone includes 6,000 acres of the greater Arcata area but it’s now off the table as county supervisors are focusing on smaller-scale medicinal hemp production.
The ongoing debate on how to regulate hemp continued at the Nov. 19 Board of Supervisors meeting. Up for consideration was an ordinance banning hemp cultivation and its manufacturing, processing and distribution.
The Planning Commission had unanimously voted to recommend that but supervisors were wary of taking the all-encompassing action. They’re supportive of extending a temporary moratorium solely on hemp cultivation while more work is done on developing regulations.
During a public comment session, many speakers pointed out that hemp is the same plant as cannabis but is differentiated by its trace amount of THC.
Cross-pollination due to the presence of male plants is the main concern of cannabis farmers and Ross Gordon, the policy director of the Humboldt Growers Alliance (HGA), summed up the issue as a question of scale.
“You can check for male plants when you’re on 5,000 or 10,000 square feet but checking for male plants on 100 acres is a different story,” he said, adding that large-scale hemp farming has caused the “big meltdowns” from cross-pollination seen in Southern Oregon and Colorado.
He said that’s why HGA opposes allowing commercial-scale cultivation of hemp in the county. The association is “neutral” on small-scale hemp cultivation.
Joshua Hanna, CEO of Humboldt CBD and Humboldt Hemp Incorporated, believes regulation should hone in on the aspect of hemp cultivation that people are most concerned about.
“If cross-pollination is the primary concern regarding hemp then we should shift the conversation toward regulating male cannabis plants in general – both hemp and marijuana,” he said. “Strains of cannabis which do not contain THC and classify as hemp are not the problem, male plants are the problem when it comes to pollination.”
He added that a tradition of hemp cultivation runs deep in the county and “fighting female hemp farming in Humboldt County is fighting something historic that began here.”
Hemp cultivation can – and does – occur under the county’s existing commercial cannabis ordinance but it’s a lower-value product than THC-rich cannabis, hence the larger scale of production.
Growing it under current permit conditions is viable but it’s less profit with the same costs and taxation.
County staff had envisioned a 28,000-acre Industrial Hemp Management Zone made up of large-tract farmlands. But supervisors showed interest in accommodating smaller-scale CBD hemp producers.
They will take more time to develop a regulatory approach. “At the very minimum, we have to do a moratorium until we know better,” said Supervisor Estelle Fennell.
She wants to make sure farming practices and prevention of environmental harm are controlled. “I don’t know what level of control we’d have for something that was really meant for building products and other traditional hemp products,” she said.
Supervisors will vote on extending the county’s existing hemp moratorium on Dec. 10 and are supportive of doing so, for a year.
In the meantime, they decided to go with one of the alternatives to an outright ban, which is to have staff consider the county’s general cannabis regulations and “determine if there are regulatory barriers which preclude small farmers from entry into the legal market place.”