Cannabis farmers fear genetic dilution from cross-pollination
Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Described as a menace to Humboldt County’s prized cannabis crops, industrial hemp will be totally banned if the advice of the Planning Commission is followed.
In an Oct. 17 public hearing, the commission voted to recommend banning not only cultivation of industrial hemp crops for medicinal purposes but also their distribution, manufacturing and sales.
A strain of cannabis that’s high in non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD), untested hemp is indistinguishable from psychoactive cannabis, however, and its medicinal cultivation can continue under the rules – and fees and taxes – of the county’s commercial cannabis ordinance.
At the hearing, numerous cannabis farmers warned of the potential consequences of allowing hemp farming, which requires high production levels to be economically viable.
County planning staff had identified 28,000 acres of agricultural zones where medicinal hemp farming would be appropriate, including 6,000 acres in the greater Arcata area.
The cannabis growers are mostly concerned about genetic pollution from cross-pollination of crops and introduction of pests.
Most of the cannabis farmers who opposed allowing hemp actually praised it as a product but described it as one that’s ill-placed in Humboldt. One farmer told commissioners that a recent federal bill legalizing hemp is “a bill for big industry to take a chance on hemp farms somewhere else” as “this would be a large step and a devastating blow, fundamentally crippling our cannabis market.”
The minority of hemp farmers that spoke said the crop can be grown without impact to conventional cannabis if safeguards such as using only feminized seed are followed. A farmer with a 100-acre-plus Industrial CBD hemp farm in Wisconsin said that of 200,000 plants, he found no more than 10 plants capable of being pollen sources.
He discouraged the “fear-mongering and paranoia of cannabis farmers.”
But cannabis producers said the hemp threat would be difficult to control. “I am pro-hemp but I am not pro-hemp here in Humboldt County,” said Tiara Arriaga, a cannabis sourcing and supply manager at Papa & Barkley. “It is not fear-mongering, there’s a real risk to genetics – pollen drifts very easily.”
She added that “some of the most organic and sustainable hemp farms I’ve seen in the United States, all across to Vermont, have seeds, have pollen drift and have major pest issues” that lead to “millions of dollars of losses.”
Holly Hayes, an owner of Rustic Farms LLC, described Humboldt as “the heart of cannabis, historically, in the country” and said introducing hemp would endanger that.
“It’s not fear-mongering – it’s actually our farms that are at risk,” she said.
Commissioners agreed. “It seems like all we talked about when we started the cannabis ordinances was how we had to protect the Humboldt name, that we had to protect how great what we have here is,” said Commissioner Alan Bongio. “I don’t really care about cannabis but if it is that important, why would we introduce something that could do this much damage?”
Commissioner Melanie McCavour said that “the risk in terms of gene flow is so high that it really doesn’t justify introducing hemp in our area, given that the value of what we have here is really the genetics.”
Commission Chair Bob Morris noted the “overwhelming public opposition” to allowing hemp and referred to newspaper reports from Oregon that “basically bore out” the impact of cross-pollination.
“I think Oregon is starting to realize that they opened up a Pandora’s Box,” he said.
The commission unanimously voted to recommend that the total ban be approved by the Board of Supervisors. Commissioner Noah Levy was absent.
Supervisors have already approved a temporary ban on hemp, which expires on December 25.