With the county’s temporary hemp ordinance slated to expire in June, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to adopt a permanent hemp ordinance on Tuesday, during what is expected to be a contentious meeting.
Unlike marijuana, hemp is considered an agricultural plant by both the federal government and state legislature. Opponents of loose hemp regulations are concerned a proliferation of large hemp farms could negatively impact water availability, increase crime, produce noxious odors and harm local vineyards.
Vineyard owners have voiced concerns that the terpenes from the cannabis plants will impact the quality of their crop. In addition, pesticides required to to grow vineyards could drift onto the hemp plants, damaging the crop and possibly leading to lawsuits.
While both hemp and marijuana are members of the cannabis family, and both have distinct and noxious odors, marijuana plants are significantly more pungent with a skunk-like smell. However, while marijuana cultivation is limited to 3 acres, the staff is proposing unlimited acres for hemp farms, with larger farms producing stronger odors.
Another issue is regarding the growing of marijuana under the guise it is hemp, which has a much lower level of THC. Several cannabis growers and farm laborers claim that many research hemp farmers were actually growing marijuana last year, and then selling the product on the black market for significantly more than the price for hemp.
A few years ago, county planning department staff ignored board direction regarding the cannabis ordinance, and produced their own version. While this led to the termination of one employee, multiple cannabis growers assert there is corruption in the planning department, including overlooking illegal activity for some growers.
As a result of several bad actors, hemp farmers who are currently complying with the law worry they will be run out of business by regulations put in place to stop illegal activity.
County staff has drafted a proposed hemp ordinance with setbacks of 300 feet for outdoor grows and 100 feet for indoor grows. In addition, the draft requires a minor use permit for farms within 300 and 1,000 feet of an urban or village reserve line.