Prompted by federal and state laws that will soon allow cultivation of industrial hemp in California, Sonoma County supervisors are scheduled to act Tuesday on a temporary ban on growing the plant closely related to cannabis but lacking its mind-altering properties.
The proposed hemp ban, recommended by Supervisors Lynda Hopkins and James Gore, cites challenges to law enforcement and potential harm to the county’s legal marijuana crop as reasons for delaying the anticipated emergence of a profitable hemp industry.
“We are just not ready to have it unleashed countywide,” Hopkins said Monday, noting the county has no regulations for hemp, in contrast to detailed standards for cannabis cultivation, manufacture and sales. Hopkins said she already has heard from investors interested in raising hemp.
A report by Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar said the market for cannabidiol — a compound known as CBD, which is common to both hemp and cannabis — is predicted to hit $22 billion by 2022.
Hemp fiber and seeds have more than 50 modern uses, ranging from textiles, building materials and paper to food, animal feed and body care products, his report said.
The report also said that state regulations could take effect as soon as Thursday and would obligate Linegar to register hemp growers.
“That’s why we need to say timeout and do a little homework,” said Hopkins, who along with Gore sits on the supervisors’ cannabis committee.
At least 15 counties, including pot-rich Mendocino, have imposed bans on hemp and five more, including Lake County, are in the process of establishing them.
Marijuana and hemp belong to the same species, but only marijuana contains significant amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive compound known as THC. Hemp products, which won’t get a person stoned and are valued for reducing inflammation, cannot legally be sold if they have a THC content higher than three-tenths of 1 percent.
CBD products have become so mainstream they are now sold by large pharmacy chains and at pet stores, as well.
While legalization of recreational marijuana continues to be a prominent issue, the 2018 Farm Bill — championed by Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell — rather quietly legalized commercial hemp production.
In California, a law signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in September allowed hemp cultivation specifically for CBD extraction, opening the door to a lucrative industry that also presents local officials with “unique challenges,” according to a staff report from Linegar’s office.
Hemp and cannabis, which look and smell alike, “cannot be reliably distinguished” without testing for THC content just before harvest, leaving law enforcement and code enforcement officials unable to determine which regulations apply in a particular situation, the report said.
It also said pollen contamination from male hemp plants grown for seed production “could ruin a cannabis crop” of female plants.
“This poses a risk to the current legal cannabis industry in Sonoma County,” the report said.
Cross-pollination between hemp and cannabis plants “could be ruinous” to both industries, said Omar Figueroa, a Sebastopol attorney who represents the cannabis industry.
But, he said, there is “room for both crops” in the county, provided there is about a 10-mile buffer between them.
Hemp cultivation could give the county’s rural area, governed by the supervisors, an “opportunity to catch up” since it has set such stringent limits on pot cultivation, Figueroa said.
This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.