SLO County proposing hemp moratorium

By KAREN VELIE

While growing and selling marijuana is legal in San Luis Obispo County, officials are planning to place a temporary moratorium on the growing of industrial hemp in part to protect the county’s budding marijuana industry.

In California, 25 counties have passed temporary moratoriums on hemp, with San Luis Obispo and Imperial counties initially approving the crop. However, both marijuana cultivators and opponents of large marijuana grows near residential areas have objected to hemp production.

Even though marijuana and hemp are both members of the cannabis family, they have different properties. Marijuana plants produce THC, the intoxicant in pot. Hemp is used to produce paper, cloth and CBD, an ingredient used in supplements, extracts and oils.

In a draft of the proposed ordinance, county staff parrots the concerns of some large marijuana cultivators, that cross pollination from hemp plants could lower the THC level in marijuana crops, and their profits.

In addition, the proposed ordinance lists concerns regarding odor and public safety. County staffers also voiced concerns that growers could attempt to disguise illegal marijuana grows as hemp cultivation.

Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp is now a federally legal agriculture commodity. Marijuana has its own specific regulations and is not protected as an agricultural crop.

If the ordinance is passed on Tuesday, the 31 growers who have already applied to the SLO County Agricultural Commissioner to grow hemp will be exempted from the moratorium, for the 12 months before their registrations expire, contingent on their approval.

County officials are seeking a 45-day temporary moratorium on hemp cultivation, with a two year extension tentatively scheduled for a vote on July 16.

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