A Humboldt County Board of Supervisors ruling to ban the growing of low-THC hemp plants went into effect Monday, creating one of the most limited hemp/marijuana rulings in one of the most friendly hemp/marijuana counties in the state.
From the 1960’s until the rise of medical and legal marijuana in the new millennium, Humboldt County was largely the epicenter of marijuana and hemp growing in the western world. While legalization brought some tax and growing issues to some farmers, it also immediately created a large tax base worth millions. The County also gets $10 million from California from state taxes each year, much of which goes back into the very industry, growing it more each year for increased state, county, and local taxes. It’s proven to be so important during the COVID-19 lockdown as a continued tax base, as well as a medical necessity, that marijuana-related businesses were marked as essential during the lockdowns and marijuana workers have been selected as more essential workers to receive the vaccine than other important professions such as teachers.
However, as marijuana and hemp production has increased exponentially in the last several years, a unique battle between farmers has sprung up. Some farmers grow high-THC marijuana varieties, the type often used as a drug or in a medicinal capacity. Others grow low-THC varieties for hemp, which is then used in everything from clothing to rope to insulation. But since the farms are often so close together, the pollen from some plants have effected others. Most notably, the male pollen from low-THC hemp interacts with high-THC marijuana, lowering the THC levels in the plant that needs high THC levels to be ready to be used recreationally.
This led to Humboldt County putting a temporary moratorium on outdoor hemp cultivation in 2018, and due to increased pressure, making Humboldt County the first county in the entire country to permanently ban outdoor cultivation of low-THC hemp, also commonly known as industrial hemp.
During the Board of Supervisors meeting last week, many marijuana farmers pushed for the permanent ban, citing the danger hemp farming posed to them.
“This is not a new or spur of the moment decision,” explained Ross Gordon, policy director for the Humboldt County Grower’s Alliance (HCGA), last week. “The staff recommendations are the outcome of over two years of discussion and public process. To begin with, the moratorium that was passed in 2018 was continued in 2019 with several town halls and community discussions at which many cannabis farmers attended and explained the many risks that industrial hemp poses to the cannabis industry here.”
“We have a world-renowned cannabis industry. We have the highest density of cannabis farms of anywhere in North America and perhaps the world. Protecting that industry should be our top priority.”
A ban on industrial hemp in the most marijuana-friendly county
While most agreed with him, hemp farmers noted that their corner of the industry would now be severely hurt, especially if similar permanent bans against growing hemp outside pop up across the state.
“Honestly, this is killing jobs here now,” John Orosco, who moved his hemp farm from Humboldt County to Oregon two years ago to continue growing hemp, told the Globe. “Each farm that leaves brings money and jobs out. And, since these farms are mostly rural and are cash crops, the small towns we are in lose a lot of tax money. Counties too. It’s favoring cannabis over us is what it is.”
“Hemp farmers have a lot more regulation behind them too because of all the various industries hemp can go to. But I guess Humboldt County wants tax money over quality. California too, since they have a bill right now that would further destroy the hemp industry in the state in favor of cannabis.”
The board ultimately voted 5-0 to make the ban permanent, replacing the temporary ban that was set to expire in May.
“If we don’t do the ban in its current context we really run into the possibility of just zero regulation,” noted Humboldt County Supervisor Mike Wilson last Tuesday. “Nonetheless, it seems like the conversation of a special permit does open up something of an avenue for ‘special permits’ meaning regulated fee oriented. I think that there might be a pathway started here. We’re not going to deliberate on it too much today but I just feel like there’s something there.”
Other Supervisors agreed, but also noted that special permits could be given for low-THC hemp cultivation for personal, educational, or experimental uses.
“I think we’ve come up with a reasonably good compromise. It’s not a ban, it’s a ban on industrial hemp,” added Supervisor Steve Madrone.
With the permanent ban now firmly in place this week, the Board of Supervisors will decide in the coming weeks what, if any, exceptions will be granted.