The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously April 2 to approve a temporary moratorium on the cultivation of industrial hemp.
"The cannabis industry feels very strongly about it," Humboldt County Agricultural Commission Jeff Dolf told the Journal back in late February, as the county and state were mulling their options. "They are very, very concerned about being able to co-exist with industrial hemp production and what that would look like."
When Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill late last year, it legalized industrial hemp federally, removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and opening the floodgates for large-scale production in the Tobacco Belt. The legislation officially distinguished hemp from marijuana, its psychotropic cousin, defining industrial hemp as a cannabis plant with no more than 0.3 percent THC content on a dry-weight basis. It changed hemp from a controlled substance to an agricultural commodity, making it legal to grow, sell and transport throughout the country and plopping the issue squarely in the laps of Dolf and his fellow agricultural commissioners.
Dolf previously told the Journal he'd been waiting on the state Department of Food and Agriculture to develop rules and regulations for industrial hemp, but not much had been forthcoming.
In a staff report for the board, Dolf's office wrote that the state Office of Administrative Law indicated it may approve an industrial hemp registration fee schedule as soon as April 3, which raised fears that some folks could register to grow the stuff before state rules and regulations are in place. The moratorium, according to the report, is designed to prevent that and similar ones have already been passed by 12 California counties.
Dolf said there are a number of potential complications with industrial hemp cultivation coming to the North Coast. First and foremost, it can be virtually indistinguishable from other types of cannabis through much of the growing cycle, posing a potential headache for regulators.
"It's very, very difficult to tell apart," Dolf said.
The concern there is that folks might register to grow industrial hemp but instead plant sticky, stony weed. The only way regulators would be able to uncover such plots would be to conduct plant-by-plant THC potency, a labor intensive proposition.
Perhaps the larger concern, Dolf said, is the potential for cross contamination between industrial hemp and the almost exclusively female traditional cannabis gardens. Cultivators fear some errant pollen from a neighboring hemp grow could render an entire season of work into a seedy pile of low-potency buds that no one would ever buy.
"It's not a simple issue and that's why the county is being very careful," Dolf said.
For what it's worth, Dolf told the Journal April 2 that he was approached by some hemp proponents at the supervisors' meeting who assured him there are safeguards that could potentially protect against the risk of pollen spread.
Passed as an urgency ordinance that required a four-fifths vote, the moratorium took effect immediately. The board has asked staff to come back within 30 days with ideas, concepts or proposed rules for a local industrial hemp program.
In recent weeks, the Journal heard from some cannabis farmers currently in the county program who primarily grow high-CBD cultivars with very little THC content. They wondered if their plants are somehow found to contain less than 0.3 percent THC, would they be found in violation of the moratorium?
Dolf said no, the moratorium doesn't have any impact on folks currently in the county's cannabis licensing program.
In related news, we reported in this space last week ("The Psychosis of Prohibition," March 28) about how there is currently only one federally approved cultivation site — the University of Mississippi — that can legally grow cannabis for research purposes and that it, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a reputation for growing really shitty weed.
Well, researchers at the University of Northern Colorado looked at cannabis samples from the Mississippi cultivation operation and found them to be genetically closer to hemp than the cannabis strains typically sold in legal medical and recreational dispensaries throughout the country. The researchers then bemoan the fact that the only cannabis being produced for scientific study in the United States is, in fact, a much different product than what is now being consumed legally in some form in a super-majority of U.S. states.
But this should be a simple fix, right? I mean, here in Humboldt we know some folks with some killer genetics, after all, who I'm sure would hook Uncle Sam up with a few seeds.