A short-term roadblock to growing hemp in unincorporated parts of Riverside County did not win approval Tuesday from the Board of Supervisors, a step that could help hemp farming get started in the region.
While supervisors voted 3-2 on May 21 to ask staff to come back June 4 with a narrower moratorium on hemp cultivation, with rules aimed at protecting neighborhoods, the lack of four votes means any “urgency” ordinance to impose a temporary ban on hemp farming would fail.
Rules governing hemp, a non-inibriating cousin of marijuana used to make a variety of products including fabrics, foods and building materials, are in flux statewide following the passage of the federal 2018 Farm Bill, which removed industrial hemp from the nation’s list of controlled substances. Hemp farming already was made legal in California as part of Prop. 64, but the state is only starting to install a legal framework that will allow the industry to get started.
In April, the California Department of Food and Agriculture allowed would-be hemp farmers to register with counties for permission to grow strains of cannabis that have virtually none of the compound that makes people high.
But state rules also leave it up to agricultural commissioners in each county to process local hemp registrations, leading to a patchwork of often contradictory policies for hemp that’s similar to the complex rules governing the marijuana industry. At least 22 of California’s 58 counties, including Ventura, San Diego, and Imperial, are accepting hemp registration forms.
In Riverside County, supervisors have direct land-use authority over unincorporated communities, where for years large-scale marijuana grows on rural plots have caused problems for residents in the form of truck traffic, noxious odors, theft of electricity and water and armed guards patrolling crops. The board last year passed rules to bring order to marijuana commerce and punish bad actors in the unincorporated areas.
Planning staff asked supervisors to impose a 45-day moratorium on hemp cultivation while they develop new hemp rules. The board would have the option to extend the moratorium, and Juan Perez, the county’s planning director, told supervisors it could take four to six months to craft regulations with public input.
“Without a temporary moratorium in place, industrial hemp cultivation could be allowed by right, subject only to a registration from the (county) Agricultural Commissioner, without a land use permit throughout Riverside County in any zone that allows field crops with no opportunity for the County impose regulations or development standards,” read a staff memo to supervisors.
Because it’s an “urgency” ordinance that immediately goes into effect, the moratorium needs four of the five supervisors to vote yes. Supervisors Jeff Hewitt and V. Manuel Perez, who is not related to Juan Perez, said they couldn’t do that.
“I’d like to see Riverside County actually become more business-friendly,” Hewitt said. “This is an opportunity for us to grow something that really has all upside and no downside.”
Supervisor Manuel Perez suggested the rule-making process could be quicker.
“I would prefer that, rather than a moratorium, perhaps the ag commissioner could raise all the concerns that (staff) have, as folks are applying in order for him to issue a permit,” Manuel Perez said. “Quite frankly, I think six months (to craft regulations) is a little too long.”
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries asked Juan Perez how the county could protect unincorporated residents from the negative aspects of hemp growing without a moratorium.
“My concern rests with the problems (we’ve) had with cannabis being grown next to residential homes, and the odors that overwhelmed those residents, where single-family homes could not open their windows; could not go outside,” Jeffries said. “Some of them couldn’t even turn their air conditioners on because the window air conditioners just sucked (the odor) right through.”
Replying to Jeffries, Juan Perez said, short of a moratorium to block hemp farming, “I don’t know that there is a protection that comes to mind.”
Supervisor Karen Spiegel asked Assistant County Counsel Tiffany North if “we’re setting ourselves up for a free-for-all if we don’t at least get some guidelines or ordinances in place?”
“Correct,” North replied.
“And free-for-alls near residential areas?” Spiegel asked.
“We have so many zones in the county that allow agricultural crops by right, without a land use permit. This potentially could come in,” North said.
Supervisor Chuck Washington suggested a narrower moratorium. But Hewitt and Manuel Perez remained opposed.
“There’s all kinds of things that have smells that aren’t necessarily agreeable to a neighbor,” Hewitt said. “You run over a skunk and the smell’s there for three days or whatever. We’re talking about a possible interaction between a few places.”
Hewitt added: “I think this isn’t rocket science. I think we put this to bed right now. I’m not interested in spending staff time on coming up with some perfect ordinance … This is a very harmless product with a lot of great applications.”
After Tuesday’s meeting, county spokeswoman Brooke Federico said hemp growers “can apply for an industrial hemp cultivation registration with the agricultural commissioner, provided that they meet the state regulatory requirements and the county’s zoning ordinance.”
Staff Writer Brooke Staggs contributed to this report.
SOURCE = PE.com