Tulare County extends ban on hemp

Low-THC version of cannabis is used for fabrics, extract is used in makeup and skin care products

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

TULARE COUNTY – On the same day that the state approved industrial hemp registration in California, Tulare County extended its moratorium on the crop to protect other crops from its lack of regulations.

On April 30, the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) approved the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) request to open registration with county agricultural commissioners for industrial hemp cultivation.

Tulare County Agriculture Commissioner Tom Tucker was aware of the decision when the Supervisors met but still recommended extending the county’s moratorium on the crop until regulations were in place.

The Board of Supervisors agreed and unanimously voted to extend the moratorium for 22 months and 15 days, the maximum allowed by law.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there and any move made today would be in error,” said Supervisor Pete Vander Poel.

Neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the CDFA has issued regulations on the crop, making it a gamble for counties to move forward. Only a few counties, such as San Luis Obispo and Imperial, have approved the crop while 15 counties have issued temporary moratoriums and “many more” are in the process or issuing moratoriums.

Industrial hemp is quickly becoming a high-dollar crop across the nation for its use as a textile and natural oil. Hemp has traditionally been used for fabrics, such as rope and carpet, but is increasingly being used for its oil extract found in makeup and skin care products as well as food supplements.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp as a federally-approved crop for its almost non-existent levels of the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

Despite its initial 45-day moratorium passed in March, Tucker said there is significant interest in growing industrial hemp in Tulare County. Tucker’s office reached out to 2,800 county growers and farm managers to gauge their interest in the crop. Of the 53 responses, 37 said they were interested in more information, 14 were opposed to farming next to the crop due to water concerns, and two were indifferent.

The only thing separating the two forms of cannabis is the level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical which causes the high associated with marijuana. Hemp has almost no THC. Tucker told the supervisors in March that there is not currently an effective field test to determine the difference. Hemp growers do have handheld devices that measure THC levels to know when to harvest the crop to meet the U.S. government standard of 0.3% THC or less, but the devices are not sophisticated enough to accurately measure if the crop is hemp or a low-grade version of pot. The AP reported that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration put out a request for private companies that might have more sensitive technologies.

The only member of the public to speak on the item was Mary Machado. A Tulare dairy farmer, Machado said she was interested in obtaining a temporary permit to grow less than 100 acres of industrial hemp on a trial basis to allow for early testing. While the supervisors did not respond to her request under the moratorium, Machado can begin the process of registering with the state. According to the CDFA, registration applications are now available on the CDFA Industrial Hemp webpage.

“This is an important new crop that has generated interest all over the state,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “With OAL endorsing this regulation, CDFA and its county partners will continue to cooperatively move forward with industrial hemp production in California.”

CDFA plans to propose additional regulations for industrial hemp cultivation later this year, including sampling and testing procedures, and the establishment of an agricultural pilot program. More information on the Industrial Hemp Program, including registration applications, can be found at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/industrialhemp/

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