Tulare County Planning Commission OKs hemp zoning

Kaitlin Washburn

The county is closer to lifting its moratorium on hemp grows

By Kaitlin Washburn

@kwashy12

TULARE COUNTY – Tulare County is one step closer to allowing hemp cultivation within its borders. During a February meeting, the Tulare County Planning Commission approved the necessary zoning ordinances for hemp cultivation in the county.

The ordinances outline the special use permits related to hemp, which cover harvesting, equipment, cold storage, packing sheds, indoor grows, and hauling and storage. Under the rules, outdoor processing of hemp must be more than 1,000 feet from any urban development — schools, churches, municipal or county parks — and indoor must be 200 feet away from residences.

“There is so much potential in industrial hemp to be the salvation of agriculture in California,” said John Elliot, a planning commissioner. “Tulare County is subject to the same prejudice and lack of information about hemp as the rest of the country.”

Planning commissioners had a variety of questions for the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office at a recent meeting on Feb. 26, ranging from how the county plans to monitor the crop and enforce regulations to what are the uses of hemp.

Hemp is a cannabinoid and a relative of marijuana. The difference between the two comes down to how much THC, a psychoactive compound, is present. Legally, a hemp plant must be at or below .3% THC, while cannabis is, on average, at 16%.

Ed Dias, a planning commissioner, and the chairman of the commission, Bill Whitlatch, asked how the county ensures that hemp is really hemp, and isn’t its relative, cannabis?

For starters, anyone who grows hemp is required to register with the ag commissioner’s office within 30 days of harvest and then the commissioner is responsible for testing the crop to ensure it’s 0.3% THC, said David Case, deputy ag commissioner.

Case also said there are cultivators who use specific strains of hemp seeds with THC levels that are unlikely to rise to the level of cannabis.

Elliott said that as the infrastructure for hemp is put in place in the county, the majority of grows will be for seeds.

Aaron Bock, the assistant director for planning and economic development for the Tulare County Resource Management Agency, said there’s a lot that hemp can be used for, anything from building materials to animal feed.

Mike Washam, associate director of the Tulare County Resource Management Agency, said it will be an adjustment for people as hemp enters the county.

“This is very new for everyone,” Washam said. We are just looking at it as an agricultural product. No different than if it was an olive oil plant.”

He also pointed out that people will assume it’s marijuana rather than hemp as the two plants are similar in smell and appearance.

“Right now, on my drive home there is an odor, and it is the smell of money, the smell of dairies,” Washam said. “ Soon I think there will be a new smell of money in the air.”

Other important points made at the meeting were that anyone who is interested in growing, producing and distributing hemp will need a special use permit for each action and anyone involved in hemp production and distribution require background checks to do so.

In order to meet an April deadline, Bock said the county is trying to get approval on the hemp ordinances as quickly as possible. The zone changes were approved, with all but Commissioner Wayne Millies voting yes.

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