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By Craig W. Anderson 

Hemp is becoming an increasingly popular commodity in the state, but San Joaquin County is carefully looking at the pros and cons of accepting hemp as a commodity in the county.

 

INDUSTRIAL HEMP as a crop is touted as something of a universal ingredient, useful as paper, canvas, rope, food products – including bread, energy bars, waffles, granola, coffee, beer, pretzels, salad dressings and body care products – and it is a biofuel used in producing ethanol.

It is, in short, a “market commodity” according to an analysis by the Hemp Business Journal: “The total retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. in 2016 was $688 million. “It’s coming,” said SJFB President David Strecker. “It’s always good to have a new, successful crop and hemp could be such a crop. However, everything must be done correctly and the introduction of hemp must not interfere with the normal duties of the Sheri or Ag Commissioner’s office.

” Bruce Blodgett, SJFB’s executive director, said “Hemp is currently banned in San Joaquin County. It’s being researched; there are many con- icts involved with it.”

Hemp and cannabis

Both hemp and cannabis produce tetra- hydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that gets people high. However, hemp has less than three-tenths of one per- cent THC while marijuana contains 5 to 25 percent THC, according to the California Hemp Cooperative. Should a hemp crop exceed the maximum three-tenths of 1 percent THC, the crop will be confiscated and burned.

County moves deliberately

“There’s currently no production and therefore no provision to move forward yet in the county,” Blodgett said. “San Joaquin County should follow the CDFA regulations when approved by the U.S. government as it creates its own regulations for hemp growers if hemp is approved in the county.”

 

CDFA regulates

The California Department of Food and Agriculture has proposed emergency regulations on the sampling and testing of industrial hemp; this is needed, said a CDFA release, “before the first legal state industrial hemp crop reaches maturity. Without regulatory procedures in place for sampling and testing hemp, growers may not harvest the crop.”

Blodgett said among the issues needing clarification include: determining the demand for hemp, its ability to be farmed and what the state and federal goverment mandates and regulations will be. Further, we do need to address financial concerns regarding its impact to county agencies like the ag commissioner’s office and sheriff’s department. In addition, there are issues related to adequate buffer zones that need to be addressed, Blodgett said.

Until the assorted elements of industrial hemp are sorted out, the Board of Supervisors adopted two interim ordinances declaring a moratorium on the “cultivation of industrial hemp...within the unincorporated areas of San Joaquin County. Thus, the planting of industrial hemp for any purpose is not permitted at this time.”

The two ordinances will remain in effect until Sept. 22.

The County Counsel pointed out that the county’s local regulation of industrial hemp cultivation “may differ from statements or information contained on the CDFA’s website. Ultimately, the cultivation of industrial hemp within [the county] is governed by the interim ordinances.”

Slow process

State regulation establishing a regis-tration fee for hemp growers and seed breeders became effective in April. is allowed growers and breeders to register with county agricultural commissioners and begin growing hemp. A CDFA statement noted that 17 growers had registered as of mid-May to grow industrial hemp on 2,166 acres.

The six single space, small font pages of emergency regulations allow the state to implement sampling time frames, procedures, methods and confirmation for hemp testing. However, no state regulations have been approved by the federal government.

Pelican answers hemp queries

Tim Pelican, San Joaquin County agricultural commissioner, said, “I receive several calls a week regarding hemp. We’re not sure about local markets, if the hemp industry has processors, storage and the other necessary associated businesses ready and in place.” He added that registering is required.

“People contact this office expressing an interest in finding out where we are regarding hemp,” Pelican said. “It’s being grown and used successfully in many states. We’re developing our own plan.”

Counties make hemp rules and laws

“All hemp used in the United States is imported” said a report by the California Hemp Cooperative. The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp a legal crop and, under the CDFA regulations, counties can establish their own additional laws for hemp such as mandating where it can be grown and regulating distances from public roads and property lines of the crop.

Hemp farmers must register with their local agricultural commissioners and pay an annual hemp farming fee of $900.

Another money making crop?

“We should look at it as another potential commodity we can grow here,” said Jake Samuel, SJFB Second Vice President. “Farmers are expert entrepreneurs and if we’re satisfied that hemp is safe, economical and completely legal, why not give it a chance?”

Samuel also cautioned, “It sounds great now, but down the road things could change; it possesses uncertainties inherent in any new venture. Hemp could be the hot item now and be deflated by unknown factors in the future.”

Can-do attitude ... and caution

All of this is doable, say the experts, but it’s a real challenge, building a crop industry from the ground up. Helping the hemp cause is this: Court cases have eliminated conflicts with federal law and it appears that “to arrive at a good decision regarding hemp will take whatever time and effort is required as we must be as certain as we can about hemps viability as a San Joaquin County crop,” said SJFB First Vice President Ken Vogel.

Joe Ferrari, chair of SJFB’s Land Use Committee, said his group is working on and learning about the myriad aspects of the hemp issue “to determine how we’re going to deal with all aspects of the potential introduction of a new, possibly controversial, crop into the country. It may take some time but that’s all right because we want to get it right.”

CFBF contributed to this story.