El Dorado County supervisors approve hemp growing pilot program | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Dorado County supervisors approve hemp growing pilot program

Eric Jaramishian / Mountain Democrat

Ending a nearly two-year industrial hemp cultivation moratorium, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors approved a two-year pilot program that will grant up to five growing permits.

Prospective growers will be able to apply beginning Jan. 1, 2023.

The program will be a test drive to see how viable the crop is in the county and if cultivation can be regulated properly per the new hemp ordinance, which allows cultivation on residential or agricultural parcels as long as it is 600 feet away from other parcels zoned residential.

The setback is measured from the nearest point of the outdoor hemp cultivation to the nearest outer wall of the structure on the neighboring parcel. Anyone can waive the setback requirements as long all owners of adjacent parcels provide written consent.

On the issue of odor from hemp farms, supervisors discussed either only allowing hemp farms on agricultural parcels or implementing the setback for residential parcels.

“I believe it allows for us to take a look, as a pilot program should, to look at these options to see what works and take out what doesn’t work, which is why I was worried about taking certain areas out,” District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel said.

Board Chair and District 4 Supervisor Lori Parlin, who cast the lone “no” vote against approving the ordinance, expressed her opinion that because differently zoned parcels are sprinkled randomly throughout the county, having hemp on agricultural parcels near residential parcels without setbacks could cause complaints from neighbors.

“We are introducing something different and new and when (the county was) doing all the cannabis hearings, families came in with odor complaints and how they were impacted then. I don’t want that to happen again,” Parlin said. “I don’t support the county making policy that is a nuisance to neighbors.”

District 3 Supervisor Wendy Thomas said the integrity of the agricultural district is what drives growers to the county and called to remove setbacks for agricultural parcels.

“I think the opportunity for residents to be affected by this is very little,” Thomas said. “The larger issue at stake is the slippery precedent that this setback allows people to view agricultural as a nuisance.”

Code Enforcement staff would have the power to test the crop for any illegal activity, including growing marijuana on the same site as hemp.

El Dorado County sheriff’s officials have adamantly expressed a desire to be involved with testing and inspections as much as possible, which had growers and other stakeholders concerned that law enforcement would overstep its bounds and conduct searches and seizures without probable cause should the crop be tested anywhere beyond .03% THC levels.

Agricultural Commissioner Charlene Caruth said law enforcement would be notified of all testing and inspections. In its consideration of the hemp ordinance Oct. 13, the Planning Commission recommended removing references of Sheriff’s Office inspections.

Thomas expressed her own concerns on the matter, stating it is a Fourth Amendment issue.

“This gets back to the fact that hemp is a legal crop,” Thomas said. “I think with the compromise that is inherent in this and if there is an issue law enforcement has this right to conduct seizures, we have worked something out here.”

District 1 Supervisor John Hidhal echoed Thomas’ comments.

“I think the sheriff getting the data and being involved with the inspections is the right step at this point,” Hidahl said.

District 2 Supervisor George Turnboo said while he thinks the Sheriff’s Office should have been more involved with the decision-making process, he was willing to approve the ordinance so the county could take local control of the crop, rather than defer to state regulations.

“I don’t like the idea of the state coming into our county telling us what we can or can’t do,” Turnboo said. “If we don’t get this passed and the state comes in and there are no restrictions, that will be a big mess for the county.”

Greg Boeger, owner of Boeger Winery and chairman of the Agriculture Commission, told supervisors farmers struggle with growing their crops due to frosts and wildfire smoke. He stated that a versatile crop needs to come into the county.

“It only makes sense to do this pilot project,” Boeger said. “If there is another crop that can help growers — we want to keep our agriculture lands — let’s at least do this experiment and see if this program works.”

Hemp licenses will be permitted for one year of issuance of permit during the pilot program. It was unclear when the county will issue the permits.

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