The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors wants to hold off on developing regulations for commercial hemp to avoid some of the pitfalls the county encountered in regulating its potent cousin cannabis, supervisors said following a report on the crop Tuesday.
Meeting in Santa Maria, supervisors also approved a cost-of-living increase in their own compensation and heard a report on the staff’s plans to ensure all county residents are counted in Census 2020 coming up in April.
County Agriculture Commissioner Cathy Fisher gave a brief history of hemp, outlined federal and state laws affecting it, provided a rough timeline of when those and county regulations might become effective and reported the current and potential future hemp cultivation in the county.
Supervisors raised a number of concerns involving commercial hemp cultivation, including developing county regulations before knowing what the federal government will adopt and what state program will be approved.
First District Supervisor Das Williams also worried about cannabis masquerading as hemp as a way for cannabis cultivators to bypass the county’s more stringent cannabis regulations.
“If they don’t get their way, they’ll just switch to hemp,” Williams said.
Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart agreed.
“There is great potential for abuse,” he said, noting “not everyone plays by the rules.”
Although Fisher said hemp produces far less odor than cannabis, supervisors were still concerned about it creating the same odor conflicts with businesses and residents that cannabis has.
“I’ve heard complaints of neighbors there is an odor issue,” said Board Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.
He also said he did not want hemp regulation to wind up with multiple county departments.
“I really want to keep this in the Agriculture Commissioner’s Office, because this is an agricultural product,” Lavagnino said. “I really don’t want to treat hemp any differently than any other agricultural crop.”
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam pointed out that if tight restrictions are imposed on hemp, they could end up being applied to other crops.
“I think farmers live in eternal fear of, if rules are being inflicted on one thing, then [they will get] inflicted on something else,” Adam said.
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Staff said the best avenue for regulating hemp would be through land use ordinances, which would apply to all crops.
When Fisher said the staff hopes to bring a revised schedule of fees, which would include hemp, to the board before the end of the year, Lavagnino said fees aren’t charged for other crops and asked what they would be for.
Fisher said fees would cover the costs of the sampling program to test hemp for THC levels prior to harvesting.
Hemp is a strain of cannabis sativa, one of two varieties of marijuana, but lacking the high concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that creates the “high” marijuana users seek.
By law, to qualify as hemp a cannabis plant must have less than 0.3% of THC, Fisher said.
Hemp was legally grown in the United States from 1608 until 1937, when it was classified as a Schedule 1 drug and effectively banned, she said.
As a result of the 2014 Farm Bill, hemp can be grown by universities and colleges for research and educational purposes.
Fisher said at present, 10 cultivators are growing hemp on 21 sites in the county, and six of those have reported a total of 265 acres under cultivation.
The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances List to allow commercial cultivation — pending development of a federal regulatory program, which has yet to be adopted.
Fisher said 77 individuals, most of them in the North County, have expressed interest in growing hemp commercially.
Despite the lack of federal and state regulatory programs, Fisher said 20 California counties are already allowing commercial hemp production, and at present 342 registered growers are cultivating the crop on 21,000 acres, with 7,271 of those in Kern County.