Hold on hemp farms in EDC extended

Eric Jaramishian
Mountain Democrat

Another extension of a moratorium on the cultivation of industrial hemp in El Dorado County will last 12 months, preventing registration for hemp growers.

Recommendations for the extension came from county Department of Agriculture Commissioner Charlene Carveth at the Dec. 7 Board of Supervisors meeting. She explained that issues with regulation and planning for a pilot program prompted the recommendation.

The challenges stem from the federal government consistently changing hemp regulations, making the process confusing on a local level, according to Carveth.

“A 30-day harvest situation between sampling and harvesting changed to 15 days and even less than that. Then it changed back to 30 days and the state had to catch up on that,” Carveth said, providing an example of federal regulation changes.

“I know my colleagues from other counties were going kind of nuts over this, trying to figure out where the regulation was at and what they needed to do.”

Carveth also reported the state’s plan for regulation of industrial hemp was denied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and sent back for revisions.

El Dorado County’s urgency ordinance for the moratorium extension states that the cultivation of industrial hemp without the adoption of “reasonable regulations” could conflict with county cannabis regulations, interfere with land use regulation, threaten existing agriculture and threaten county residents’ welfare.

Another issue the ordinance addresses is distinguishing hemp and cannabis, which are similar, but hemp has significantly lower THC levels compared to cannabis. Law enforcement would have a difficult time distinguishing between the two without samples for testing, which would hamper civil and criminal enforcement of the county’s current cannabis regulations, the ordinance states.

“A grower might be incentivized by the similarity between the plants and the comparatively liberal hemp laws to cultivate cannabis disguised has industrial hemp instead of obtaining a commercial cannabis annual operating permit and a commercial cannabis use permit from the Planning and Building Department,” states the draft ordinance

The Agriculture Department staff also requested to implement a permanent ban on industrial hemp. Deputy county counsel Daniel Vandekoolwyk confirmed that if no action is taken, whether to ban or implement a pilot program before the county’s two year moratorium limit is up, the county will have to follow state law on authorizing the growth of industrial hemp.

County Agriculture Commission Vice Chair Dave Bolster said at the meeting he was disappointed with the permanent ban recommendation but agreed the county needs to come up with a plan to effectively implement an industrial hemp program.

Bolster also stated that industrial hemp could help an already uncertain agriculture industry.

Some who commented on the proposed recommendations agreed with a temporary ban on cultivation, except for Sheriff John D’Agostini, who said the pilot program was a failure and created an over 100-page powerpoint on all hemp-related crimes in the country. He called for the permanent ban on industrial hemp.

Shingle Springs resident Lee Tannenbaum, who has applied for a cannabis growing permit, commented that of all those crimes presented, only three occurred in California in 2021, adding that there are about 21,500 licensed hemp farms in the country overall.

“While the EDSO would have you believe hemp is a crime-producing crop, there were less than .01% crimes committed at licensed hemp farms in the U.S. Compare this to robberies of other businesses, 64,000 in California alone. Add to this, the crime rate around drugs in California has gone down in the last 10 years, not up (State Attorney General Report),” Tannenbaum wrote in a comment to the board, citing statistics from a report by the state attorney general.

Tannenbaum said he supports the temporary moratorium.

El Dorado County Growers Alliance Executive Director Rod Miller stated in his written comment that it is difficult for the agricultural community to earn a living and that hemp may provide new revenue for businesses.

“The risks associated with hemp growing have been overblown by the sheriff’s department,” Miller wrote. “This county has jewelry stores and gun shops. The No. 1 items valued by criminals are guns. We don’t see the sheriff’s department trying to limit gun sales.”

Tannenbaum also dispelled that drug cartels would want to steal hemp.

“It has very little value and is too hard to transport,” Tannenbaum noted. “It could take days to weeks to ‘steal’ a large hemp farm and even if they did, the net from this crime would be in the small thousands of dollars.”

The initial moratorium, OK’d by the Board of Supervisors Dec. 15, 2020, was applied via county ordinance so the county could examine regulations regarding industrial hemp growth.

Extending to nearly a year, the moratorium was brought back for discussion at the Dec. 7 board meeting.

The board approved the moratorium extension unanimously and voted 3-2 on a second motion to direct staff and the committee on industrial hemp “to continue to explore if all concerns regarding law enforcement, safety issues impact to neighbors, county cost to regulate and internal county staffing capacity can be addressed in an ordinance.”

If it is determined an ordinance is possible, it will be presented to the board by the end of 2022.


Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.