RIVERSIDE – Riverside County supervisors on Tuesday, June 4 were split on whether to renew an immediate ban on the cultivation of the marijuana derivative hemp in unincorporated communities, causing the measure to fall short of the votes needed for implementation, but the supervisors did direct the Executive Office to draft a less restrictive ordinance.
Four-fifths approval was required for the urgency ordinance to take effect, but with Supervisors Jeff Hewitt and Manuel Perez opposing Supervisors Kevin Jeffries, Karen Spiegel and Chuck Washington, the proposal failed.
A similar urgency measure was approved by the board in March 2018, but that has since expired.
Transportation & Land Management Agency Director Juan Perez approached the Board of Supervisors last month seeking an extension of the temporary moratorium on all industrial hemp cultivation, mainly because the cannabis derivative is barely distinguishable from marijuana, and the county is still in the process of implementing a regulatory framework for marijuana grows.
Perez and TLMA staff further wrote in documents posted to the board’s agenda that “nuisance odors impacting neighborhoods” from hemp cultivation and processing pose a threat to public health, and therefore should be stopped until zoning regulations are in place that specify where and to what extent hemp can be produced.
“How can somebody tell me I can’t grow because it smells?” commercial grower Stan McNaughton told the board. “What about garlic farmers?”
Robert Winkler, an attorney and supporter of hemp research, said the federal government had “de-criminalized” hemp thanks to legislation signed into law by President Trump last year, and California had no barriers, so the county should promote “this rapidly evolving opportunity for American farmers.”
Hewitt noted that “hemp is a commercial substance that … is available to people farming their lands,” and the county should not stand in the way of potential enterprises that the state and federal governments have not outlawed.
However, Hewitt joined Spiegel in expressing a desire for grows to remain well clear of schools and other “sensitive” places, with setbacks similar to ones instituted under the comprehensive regulatory framework for cannabis commerce approved by the board last October and refined in January.
Current regulations only mandate that hemp growers register with the county Office of the Agricultural Commissioner, and Perez said about a dozen have done so to date.
The main difference between hemp and unadulterated marijuana is the tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — content. Hemp leaves have about three-tenths of 1 percent of the compounds contained in cannabis leaves, according to the Office of County Counsel.
Advocates of hemp production and research say its properties have proven benefits in treating some skin and heart disorders.
The board directed TLMA and Executive Office staff to configure an ordinance that loosens zoning and land use regulations to allow hemp cultivation on large plots in most unincorporated areas, factoring in resource utilization, odor issues and development standards as part of the licensing criteria.
The drafting phase and hearings before the county Planning Commission are likely to take about six months, after which the board will consider the matter.