Another battle over local control of cannabis is about to roil California.
Only this time, it’s marijuana’s mellow cousin, hemp, that’s at the heart of disputes that engulf cities, counties and the state — and farmers who hope to grow the potentially lucrative crop.
On April 30, about two and a half years after California voters lifted a decades-long ban on the cultivation of industrial hemp, the California Department of Food and Agriculture abruptly gave the go-ahead for farmers to register with counties for permission to grow hemp strains of cannabis, a plant that has virtually no trace of the compound in marijuana that makes consumers high. Farmers thought they just needed to fill out the state’s one-page registration form, pay a $900 annual fee, and get hemp seeds in the ground before the window closed on this year’s planting season.
But state regulations left it up to agricultural commissioners for California’s 58 counties to process hemp registration. And those commissioners are coming up with their own interpretations of the state law, creating a patchwork of restrictive and often contradictory policies for hemp, not unlike the complex rules that exist for the marijuana industry.
So far, only 22 counties — including Ventura, San Diego and Imperial — are accepting hemp registration forms, the Southern California News Group has learned. Over the past two weeks, California counties have accepted nearly 60 applications from farmers who hope to grow hemp that they can sell to makers of energy-efficient construction materials, durable fabrics, nutritional foods and CBD, a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis that’s triggered a $1 billion (and growing) market for its touted therapeutic benefits.
The other 35 counties say they’re either waiting on more information from the state or have passed moratoriums on hemp farming, moratoriums that in some cases are scheduled