El Dorado County hemp farmers closer to resprouting
Industrial hemp growers are one more step closer to cultivating again in El Dorado County.
Now that the El Dorado County Planning Commission approved unanimously to amend its county zoning ordinance to make way for an industrial hemp pilot program, the ordinance will go through a second reading for approval at a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors Nov. 1.
The board adopted a resolution of intent to amend Title 130 of the county’s zoning ordinance to enact regulations for farming of industrial hemp Sept. 20, after putting a series of moratoriums on its cultivation.
The county Planning Commission made a few edits to the original draft of the ordinance. Those included a change in setbacks in residential areas, from 200 to 600 feet, and removing references to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office in the section about inspections, a source of disagreement between law enforcement and county industrial hemp stakeholders.
The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office requested a regulation that would allow its officers to accompany county staff when doing inspections on the hemp product for THC levels.
They also recommended any product beyond .03% THC be reported to the Sheriff’s Office.
These requests left some wondering if the Sheriff’s Office is overstepping its boundaries on enforcing rules of cultivation.
“Law enforcement has strong-armed their way into this process and while their opinion is valuable and should be looked at, law enforcement’s primary function is to advise and enforce, not set policy,” said Lee Tannebaum, CEO of cannabis company Cybele Holdings and a former hemp grower.
The Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee called to remove law enforcement from inspections, citing that inspections should be done by county staff and not law enforcement.
Sgt. William Coburn also relayed the sheriff’s request that any hemp farm be fenced off for less exposure of the crop and as a deterrent to potential crime.
Agriculture Commissioner Charlene Carveth reported the Industrial Hemp Working Committee found fencing could be cost-prohibitive.
“We are trying to look at it from how it could actually work because you do not get a big profit from industrial hemp, so if you put too many regulations and requirements, you are probably going to price the program to the point where it is not profitable,” Carveth said.
Coburn stated the Sheriff’s Office recommendations come from the same recommendations as for cannabis. He also shared reasoning behind keeping hemp cultivation out of sight.
“Having cultivations closer than 1,500 feet from school, places of worship, parks and other special-use areas we believe could be a problem with exposure and a high possibility of thefts occurring,” Coburn told the Planning Commission.
“The goal behind that is to lessen exposure to juveniles, reduce temptations to people who maybe have an addiction to marijuana,” Coburn added. “It is to separate the youth and people with issues with drugs from a possible drug that is close to a drug.”
Coburn stated having a hemp cultivation site in an area not readilyaccessible by the public would help limit the crime of opportunity and mitigate odor complaints.
Responding to inspection recommendations, Coburn said an officer would help deter crimes related to illegal marijuana grows.
Coburn pointed out that in 2020 sheriff’s deputies inspected four of 10 licensed hemp farms and found that three were growing marijuana.
District 4 Planning Commissioner Andy Nevis questioned the reasoning for law enforcement getting involved with the inspections since county staff and code enforcement would perform those duties anyway.
“I’m trying to figure out why it matters if they’re illegally growing marijuana and they are going to get busted either way,” Nevis said.
Coburn said law enforcement is trained better in recognizing the difference between marijuana and hemp.
“If we see a criminal activity occurring, we can act on it and ask questions and can conduct an investigation right there,” Coburn said.
District 2 Planning Commissioner Kris Payne noted marijuana is classified differently from hemp and should not be treated the same regarding regulation.
Industrial hemp is used in variety of products including foods, health products, clothing, rope, bioplastics and more.
A modification growers said they would like to see in the hemp ordinance involves the premises of cultivation defined by the assessor’s parcel number. This is contrary to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s hemp regulations defining the site or area of grow as premises, not parcel, growers are saying.
This restriction prohibits the use of the remainder of the parcel outside the hemp cultivation area for other licensed and governmentally regulated activities, according to past hemp grower and Somerset farmer David Harde.
“In essence, this restriction eliminates the economic potential and other uses of the remainder of the parcel, solely due to this definition,” Harde said.
Despite this, the growers are eager to start cultivating again.
“Overall, we are very pleased with CEDAC, the Agricultural Commission and Planning Commission decisions and approach. The program is workable as it left the Planning Commission,” Tannebaum stated to the Mountain Democrat.
“The industrial hemp program promises new products and a new direction for our county agricultural producers,” Harde said. “If the Board of Supervisors establishes the area of the cultivation site as premise and not parcel, the industrial hemp agricultural community will flourish.”
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