State funding to help smoke out fake hemp

CDFA will reimburse Tulare County for some expenses to investigate unregistered industrial hemp growers

TULARE COUNTY – Tulare County will get a little help from the state in making sure those large cannabis grows on country roads are for industrial hemp and not marijuana.

On Sept. 1, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with the California Department of Food and Agriculture to be reimbursed up to $2,000 for staff time related to registering industrial hemp growers, investigating unregistered hemp growers and some public outreach activities explaining the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana. The agreement is retroactive to July 1 and is good through June 30, 2022.

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.

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. The most popular use right now is make CBD oil, used for health issues and exists in beauty products. A new CBD retail store is about  to open in Downtown Visalia. Reports of a surplus of hemp in other parts the United States have surfaced as farmers have rushed to plant their fields with a new potential money maker.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved zoning ordinances and use permits to allow for hemp cultivation in the county on May 7. The ordinance essentially treats industrial hemp as any other legal agriculture crop, with some additional restrictions. The cultivation and production of industrial hemp was temporarily banned by the county on March 26, 2019.

Tom Tucker, the county agricultural commissioner, said the processing requirements are different depending on the zone and whether the crop is processed indoors or outdoors. The requirement remained unchanged when the supervisors voted in favor of the ordinance.

If indoor processing is being done within one of five agriculture zones, then it must be done 1,000 feet away from any urban development. If it’s done within one of two industrial zones, there is no setback requirement from urban development, according to the zoning ordinance. Any outdoor processing being done in either agriculture or industrial zones must be done at least 1,000 feet from development.

To help law enforcement differentiate between hemp and cannabis, Tucker said the county will make its entire registration and permit list available to officers.

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