County permitted growers can still plant

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2019

Industrial hemp moratorium in San Jacinto extended until May 1

The San Jacinto City Council, following nearly 90 minutes of discussion, decided to extend a moratorium on the cultivation of industrial and pharmaceutical hemp, while allowing the current hemp farmers to grow their next crop for another season.

Three local hemp and cannabis growers appeared at the Tuesday, Feb. 18, council meeting to urge the council not to approve a resolution to completely prohibit the cultivation of the industrial hemp, which is not to be confused with the highly regulated, state approved, cannabis or marijuana used for medicinal and recreational purposes.

The farmers, including Chris Minor from AG farm management, Luis Calderon from GHI and Chris Sheridan, a representative for other local growers, appeared during a public hearing to make their case in opposition to the proposed lifting of a moratorium on hemp and a San Jacinto city resolution to an ordinance that would have prohibited the cultivation of more hemp crops in the city’s agricultural area as recommended by the San Jacinto Planning Commission.

Since hemp was taken off the list of illegal drugs like marijuana by President Donald Trump in December 2018, the Riverside County lifted its moratorium on the plants and granted permits to grow the crop to five local farmers, including Brian Salmon at 2621 W. Esplanade Ave. with two permits for 40 acres; Victory Hemp Inc. in the Gateway area of the city for 90 acres; Calderon’s Spice Ranch for 112 acres and Innovation Cultivations Group LLC at 450 N. Sanderson Ave. for 15 acres. The farmers have since cultivated much of the crop and have it awaiting processing out of the city hoping for a good market return.

Hemp, although a form of cannabis, is not grown for hallucinogenic properties. It is grown for its fibers for clothing, rope, textiles, shoes, paper, bioplastics, insulation and biofuel. It does have pharmaceutical property from the CBD oil derived from its seeds that is used for healing balms and other health properties.

The ingestion of CBD has yet to be determined as a benefit to health and is undergoing federal testing for that purpose. However, CBD products have been sold for many years, without prescription at many health stores and holistic markets for some physical impairments. The growing of hemp is no longer regulated by any government, but it is tested aftermarket to determine its THC/CBD content. Industrial hemp cannot be over 0.03% THC for retail sales or it is determined as a Schedule I Controlled Substance and illegal.

The cities of San Jacinto and Hemet do not have any in city testing facilities for cannabis or hemp. The lack of those facilities, which are currently prohibited along with cannabis dispensaries without permit in the cities, was of concern in the Planning Commission review and for the local growers as well.

With the absence of San Jacinto Mayor Andrew Kotyuk that evening, Mayor Pro Tem Crystal Ruiz officiated the council meeting and led the discussion on the proposed lifting of the hemp cultivation moratorium and a new resolution prohibiting any more hemp cultivation in the city’s agricultural areas.

Travis Randel, community development director, provided a report on the council’s request for the proposed code amendment.

“On July 2, 2019, the city council approved Interim Urgency Ordinance No. 19-15 that imposed a temporary moratorium on the cultivation of industrial hemp within the city limits. At the initial hearing, the city council considered a change to the proposed ordinance by indicating that the moratorium does not apply to properties who had registered industrial hemp sites with the county agricultural commissioner before adoption of the ordinance. The council adopted the moratorium with this change by a vote of 4-1 in favor,” Randel said in his report.

The council extended the moratorium Aug. 6, 2019 through to May 1. With May 1, fast approaching the council was called upon to make the decision to lift the moratorium and provide direction on the future of allowing hemp to be grown within the city’s borders.

The Planning Commission and city staff, after research and study on the issue, recommended the council prohibit any future hemp cultivation seeing it now is without state or federal regulation.

The city staff said in their recommendation, “Over the past few months, staff has researched the impacts and effects of hemp cultivation. Staff remains concerned that the limited regulatory framework for industrial hemp at both the county and state level would result in significant impacts to the community as a whole. Unlike cannabis businesses, which require substantial investment by obtaining both a city land use permit and regulatory permit, as well as an annual state license, industrial hemp simply requires an annual registration from the county.

“The lack of state regulations has the potential to create a substantial burden on the city to verify, validate and test hemp products to ensure compliance with city, state and federal laws. Additionally, there are concerns that the under-regulated hemp program will have significant impacts, primarily cross-pollination, of the highly regulated, taxed and permitted cannabis program,” according to the report. “Additional impacts include the potential for illicit cannabis cultivation within legitimate hemp farms as well as a drain on public resources, such as police and code enforcement services, to investigate unlawful activities. Due to these concerns, staff has prepared the proposed ordinance, which would prohibit the cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of industrial hemp in the city of San Jacinto.”

Ruiz said she was concerned, not for the legitimate growers in the meeting, but for those coming who might grow illegal or unpermitted cannabis in the middle of their hemp fields to hide it from inspectors. She also noted there are no testing facilities or methods by city staff to check on any violations in the grows.

The growers at the meeting one by one refuted some of the reports data, saying the “cross-pollination” is highly unlikely in their grows arguing they pull any plants that might cross-pollinate the hemp plants and are careful with taking the CBD oils out of what hemp plant seeds are used for that purpose. They also pointed out that even if they weren’t careful with their hemp plantings, pollination from other cannabis plants outside of the city would still be a threat they themselves don’t want because it depletes the value of their hemp crops.

They also refuted the alleged smell given off by the hemp plants some residents complained about. They said it was insignificant compared to the many dairy farms in the agricultural areas of the city.

Councilmember Joel Lopez said that his family in northern California grows both hemp and cannabis almost across the street from the fields and has not had any problem with cross pollination of the crops nor any complaints from residents or businesses.

“They’re growing more and more,” he said.

He came under criticism from Ruiz who said Lopez should be careful about his relationship to the industry in making any regulatory decisions on the issue at hand.

“I don’t take any money or anything from them,” Lopez retorted.

He said he would go on the recommendation of the staff and other council members.

Randel explained the staff was also concerned that unregulated industrial hemp industry will have significant industrial impacts on the existing community.

The staff reasoned, “Industrial hemp and cannabis are virtually indistinguishable from each other without expensive in-field testing equipment which creates the potential for illicit cannabis cultivation. The regulating, inspecting and monitoring of these activities would have a significant cost burden on the city. In addition, staff is concerned that there are insufficient staffing levels to adequately inspect and verify that hemp cultivators are limiting fields to hemp and not illicit cannabis grows.”

After answering many questions posed by the report and the growers speaking on the matter, the city council decided to once again extend the moratorium at least to May 1 so staff and the council can continue to study the proposed ordinance and make amendments to it as proposed by the staff and Planning Commission.

The growers told the council the return on their initial hemp cultivation would not be known until tested in San Diego and placed on the market. When asked by the council if they had received any financial return on their hemp products, the answer was “no,” but they were generally pleased with their first crop that is now drying in warehouses before testing and sale. The hemp crop, like other purely agricultural crops in the local area, are not taxed unlike the highly regulated cannabis products that are cultivated, processed and now sold as a medicinal or recreational drug and are legal in California and a few other states but are still termed illegal by the federal government.

Cities derive their taxable revenue through the retail sales of the grocery or retail products produced by the farmers. Local industrial hemp growers, at this time, are of no tax benefit to the city or county.

In other business, the council approved a contract with All American Asphalt for $773,226.06 for the addition rumble strips, crash barrels and other safety measures along Sanderson Avenue from Cottonwood Avenue north along with crack and slurry sealing of the roadway. Ninety percent of the cost may be covered by county and state safe highway grants, according to the city engineering department.

Funds were allocated for upgrades on the city’s water systems and wells of approximately $100,000.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.