Tulare County approves hemp farming ordinance

Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of legal hemp, permit applications will be available May 7

By Kaitlin Washburn

TULARE COUNTY – The Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved zoning ordinances and use permits to allow for hemp cultivation in the county.

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. Now that the zoning ordinances have been approved, the next step for the county will be to lift that moratorium.

Tom Tucker, the county agricultural commissioner, said the county plans to lift the moratorium on May 7, at which time people can begin submitting applications to cultivate hemp.

“It feels good to be getting this finished, it’s been a lot of hard work,” Tucker said. “This will be a new crop for a lot of people, and as long as we can keep everything squared away and watch out for bad players, this will be a good thing for our county.”

At a March 24 meeting, the supervisors mainly discussed whether to allow hemp processing within urban development zones. The current version of the ordinance requires cultivation and processing to have a quarter-mile setback from urban areas, such as schools, churches, municipal or county parks.

Kuyler Crocker, supervisor for District One, asked about the potential for converting old packing houses or storage units for hemp processing, such as those within unincorporated communities. He asked whether the county would be willing to remove the setback requirements within urban areas.

“We can utilize some of these properties, which is more cost effective than building their own and provide some of these towns that have these abandoned properties with new opportunities,” Crocker said. “The market [for hemp] has cooled. Last growing season wasn’t as profitable as previous growing seasons, but it would be wise to give our farmers that option.”

District Five Supervisor Dennis Townsend said if the urban restrictions were removed, that could lead to complaints about the hemp’s smell. Michael Washam, the associate director of the county’s Resource Management Agency, also said one of the community’s main concerns about hemp was the smell, which is why the ordinance includes the 1,000-foot buffer.

In response, Crocker pointed out that there are other stinky facilities that are allowed to operate within urban areas, such as people raising mice and rats to go to pet stores or growing Yucca plant.

Tucker, in an interview with The Sun-Gazette, 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.

Jason Britt, the county’s administrative officer, asked why there isn’t a sign requirement for outdoor hemp cultivation so that passersby know it is hemp and not cannabis, which is not legal within the county’s borders.

Tucker said the county considered requiring posted signs, but ultimately decided to not include it as there were concerns about theft. 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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