Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County’s Planning Commission is advising prohibition of industrial hemp farming but there’s a notable exception – College of the Redwoods would be able to cultivate hemp for educational and research purposes.
The viability of industrial hemp in the county’s unincorporated areas came under the commission’s deliberation at its January 7 meeting. A draft ordinance that makes a temporary moratorium on industrial hemp permanent was supported by commissioners.
Large-scale hemp farming has been under a moratorium since May 2019 and a current extension expires on May 10. Before then, planning staff will finalize the ordinance and it will be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors for definitive approval.
Those who want to cultivate smaller amounts of high-CBD plants for medicinal purposes have been doing so under the county’s commercial cannabis ordinance, which was amended last October to make rules easier for smaller-scale farmers.
Hemp farming is controversial because of the risk of cross-pollination and pest exchange with the county’s prized crop, conventional high-THC cannabis.
But hemp-derived products have multiple uses and College of the Redwoods has requested and is recommended to receive clearance to start a hemp farm on its greater Eureka area campus on Tompkins Hill Road.
Under the draft ordinance, the school will have to get a special permit for the yet-to-be defined farm. But the campus is in the coastal zone and County Planner Lana Adler said the state’s Coastal Commission has concerns about “impacts to coastal resources” and the change of use of the campus area.
Adler said a final version of the hemp ordinance can include performance standards and a requirement for a more comprehensive permitting process in response to the Coastal Commission’s concerns.
During a public comment period Ross Gordon of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance supported the recommended ordinance.
There was also support for allowing industrial hemp. Benjamin Grant, who identified himself as a hemp researcher, acknowledged that cross-pollination and pests are “potential threats” but “those aren’t problems that we can’t solve.”
He said those concerns can be addressed by limiting hemp production to female plants for medicinal CBD production.
On CR’s plans, he said he applauds the research and education goals but questioned the training of hemp farming in a county that doesn’t accept it. “To educate the workforce to grow hemp but actually only work in a cannabis market – that’s disingenuous,” he said.
Marie Mills, co-owner of the Hemp Connection retail store in Garberville, described the draft ordinance as “very disturbing” and said there should be “a way for marijuana and hemp growers to work together.”
Mills said she supports CR’s plans and wants to promote hemp education herself.
She said a non-profit group has selected her store “to be a landmark on the historical cannabis trail of Northern California” as the first hemp store to open in the U.S.
She asked if she could grow a small number of hemp plants on the patio of her store. Planning Director John Ford said it’s allowable because small-scale commercial cannabis rules don’t distinguish between CBD and THC and personal use rules allow cultivation of up to six plants or 100 square feet of growing area on parcels less than an acre.
Larger growing areas are allowable on larger parcels under the personal use regulations.
No one from CR joined the online meeting. Supervising Planner Michael Richardson said CR was asked to provide details on its hemp farming aspirations but “they’re not quite ready to define their program yet.”
Commissioner Brian Mitchell said that industrial-scale hemp farming is “incompatible and a danger to the industry that we have worked so hard to develop here” and made a motion in support of the draft ordinance.
The motion limited the CR exemption to its Tompkins Hill Road campus, with the size of growing area to be determined later. The school has several sites, including a farm in Shively.
The recommendation for approval of the draft hemp ban ordinance was unanimously supported.