Tulare County takes critical look at hemp ordinance

John Lindt

County board of supervisors may take up hemp ordinance in time to plant spring crop

By John Lindt
Sierra 2 the Sea News Service

TULARE COUNTY – Weaving industrial hemp into the fabric of regulations has been difficult. At the local level the county has been hands off, but with more interest cropping up, the board of supervisors may take another look.

Associate director of the Tulare County Resource Management Agency, Mike Washam, says the board of supervisors are expected to draft a hemp ordinance for Tulare County in the new year that would allow some plantings by spring, in time to make a crop. 

To date there has been a hold on plantings due to federal and state questions. 

”We have a two year moratorium in place” Washam said. “But we can amend that.”

Industrial hemp is a strain of the cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived products. It is one of the fastest growing plants and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years ago. 

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 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.

Now that it has become a high-dollar, marketable crop, the World Ag Expo is co-hosting a competition for funding designed to accelerate the future of the hemp industry by supporting entrepreneurs, researchers and students who are launching the most disruptive hemp innovations in the world. Submissions will come from hemp innovators in universities, companies, research institutes, barns, and government agencies. Finalists will be invited to the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California in February 2020 to participate in the fast pitch competition.

Called the Hemp Innovation Challenge, prizes will be awarded for ideas connected to technology, software, and services driving growth and innovation into food, fuel, medicine, health, fiber, waste, and sustainable development as a few examples.

In other news

The latest diary market report is cheery for a change for the county’s’ number one industry.

Pass the eggnog, please. Dairy producers should be brimming with holiday spirit this year, as Christmas present promises to be much more cheerful than Christmas past. The United States Department of Agriculture announced the November 2019 Class III price at $20.45 per cwt. 

That’s the highest Class III price in five years and it is more than $6 above where it was a year ago. That’s a lot of Christmas cheer heading for dairy producers’ mailboxes. At $16.60, the November Class IV price pales in comparison but it is still up 21 cents from October and $1.54 better than November 2018.

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