By Craig W. Anderson
San Joaquin County’s first three applications to grow cannabis have been filed with the county Community Development Department and San Joaquin Farm Bureau has concerns about the applications.
“This all seems premature; cannabis is legal in California but not elsewhere,” said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. “Cannabis is the opposite of the commodities we already grow here. The rules and regulations for growing cannabis crops haven’t proven to be effective elsewhere and we’ve seen chaos because the Feds have hemp rules but nothing for cannabis yet.”
“The county says it will follow state and federal laws but they’re not completed yet, except in draft form,” Blodgett said.
SJFB President David Strecker said, “We’ve taken our stand on this and many challenges still need to be addressed. This will take time. A switch can’t just be flipped to fix it.”
“More answers from the USDA are needed before we can support growing cannabis or hemp in the country. We want to be as sure that the challenges are met and the crops will be viable and profitable,” Strecker added.
Why proposed, opposed?
With the advent of cannabis in San Joaquin County, SJFB has submitted comment letters concerning the first three applications to the Community Development Department expressing concerns about such large commercial projects in the county’s Ag Zone.
The SJFB Board of Directors voted to oppose all applications based on crucial factors that each had in common, the two most serious being: all three are in close proximity to schools, homes and other farms and each facility paves over a large amount of land preventing its use for agriculture.
Two crops, one application
One application is for processing hemp and the cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of cannabis and it is less than 3,000 feet from Live Oak Elementary School, a residential neighborhood and several small family farms.
SJFB contends this is an urban warehouse project better suited for the county’s existing commercial zones. If built, the application will cover 56 percent of the parcel with buildings and parking pavement with only small uncovered areas of earth remaining.
“Neither the county or the cannabis growers are thinking about schools,” said SJFB First Vice President Jake Samuel. “ They’re concentrating on location, transportation and other area attributes that will benefit their business.”
Farming operations near schools is already a sensitive issue for the county’s agriculture, with various buffer zones surrounding schools and residential areas and cannabis will add to this regulatory climate, Strecker said. “These cannabis facilities need a high level of security that could impact surrounding properties.”
Schools, residences, farms
One of the other two applications is for the cultivation of cannabis and is less than 4,700 feet from Victor Elementary School and several small family farms closely surround this parcel.
The final application may be two miles from New Jerusalem Elementary School but two other schools are also near enough to be affected: Delta Charter Schools to the Northwest and a third school, Rising Sun School, is also in the area.
More than 16 percent of this parcel will be covered by buildings, driveways and parking, with no room for other ag production.
Farm Bureau is concerned about the safety of member families and ag workers. Studies have shown that legal growing in other regions has attracted vandalism, theft, and violent crime. Farm Bureau and the sheriff’s office would like to limit such activities as much as possible.
Also, in each application, the grower isn’t the landowner which can lead to growers constructing sophisticated set-ups which they abandon when things go wrong, leaving the landowner and the community responsible for cleaning up the facility.
Farm Bureau also said the county lacks the resources to patrol the county and protect any legal businesses in the zones, while enforcing laws against illegal cannabis.
Hemp regs unfinished
For this double-crop growing plan, SJFB commented, “Specific to hemp, the federal and state regulations for hemp are only in the draft development stage.” Although the county may overlook these temporary regulations, the state and federal government will not, which means the growers and processors could be those being fined.
The concern is that the county has insufficient staffing in the ag commissioner’s and sheriff’s offices to regulate, test for appropriate THC levels, and respond to anticipated crime increases.
County’s first shot
“This is the first shot at how the county handles growing cannabis and hemp, two plants that have been illegal for decades,” Samuel said. “This brings fear and uncertainty, which is expected, especially considering the USDA’s regulations are still in the draft stage.”
Economic viability vital
While maintaining and growing the county’s agricultural industry is vital to the economic viability of the entire county, two aspects of cannabis and hemp create problems: their potential incompatibility to the county’s ag zoned areas and that cannabis could undermine nearby ag operations.
Cannabis is a highly sensitive crop that directly impacts neighboring agricultural operations financially via contamination – and the ensuing lawsuits - theft losses, and labor issues.
First Vice President Ken Vogel has a more sanguine view of the potential crop. “Just like the other crops we grow here, cannabis and hemp need marketing, infrastructure and a market in place.”
General Plan policies violated
Farm Bureau said the applications aren’t consistent with the county’s general plan, are incompatible with ag zone areas, don’t protect agricultural resources such as land and aren’t appropriate for the General Plan.
“It’s important,” Samuel said, “that we, Farm Bureau and agriculture, work with the county, the ag commissioner and the sheriff’s office so that we’ll all be part of the solution.”
Strecker said, “We face a big job with cannabis and hemp. Many questions remain but we’ll be able to answer them.”