New hemp cultivation laws emerge

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As controversy surrounding cannabis swirls in the community and on social media, hemp – the same species of plant as marijuana, Cannabis sativa – has quietly entered the fray.

According to California Health and Safety Code Section 11018.5, “Industrial hemp means a crop that is limited to types of the plant Cannabis sativa L. having no more than three-tenths of 1% tetrahydrocannabinol contained in the dried flowering tops, whether growing or not; the seeds of the plant; the resin extracted from any part of the plant and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture or preparation of the plant, its seeds or resin produced there from.”

THC is the compound in marijuana that creates the “high,” with some strains producing up to 34% of the chemical. Hemp is not bred or grown for this feature but is utilized for many other uses.

Marijuana advocates praise the benefits of industrial hemp. This plant has many applications and produces a lot of products, including oils, seeds for feed, plant fiber for rope and cloth, leaves and stems for animal food and many more.

The federal government has de-criminalized industrial hemp due to legislation signed into law by President Donald Trump. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, effective Jan. 1, removed hemp from Schedule I of the federal controlled substances act.

Riverside County had banned the cultivation of hemp, but that ban has been lifted. The county now has no barriers to its cultivation, but the rules and regulations that must be followed are extensive and complicated.

All growers of industrial hemp for commercial purposes must register with the County Agricultural Commissioner before planting. Any cultivation without valid and current registration is in violation of the law and subject to enforcement. Registered farmers and established agricultural research institutions may cultivate the plant.

California law does not currently have any restrictions specific to the importation of industrial hemp seeds and plants into California, but these must meet all plant pest quarantines and may be subject to agricultural inspections.

The California Food and Agricultural Code requires that registered growers and seed breeders, except for seed breeders developing a new seed cultivar, to only grow varieties of industrial hemp that are on the list of approved seed cultivars.

Hemp plants must be sampled and tested for THC content. They must be collected by the commissioner or a third-party sampler designated by the commissioner.

The commissioner, or designated sampler, has to verify that the sample collection site corresponds to the registered location using GPS coordinates before collecting the samples. The registrant must be present to observe the collection and to give the sampler access to all industrial hemp plants within the registered land area and all areas and facilities used for growing.

Each sample includes all parts of the plant, including stems, stalks, flowers, leaves, seeds and buds from at least five different plants. Indoor and outdoor growing areas are treated as separate fields.

The bags containing the samples are sealed and labeled in a manner to prevent tampering and ensure chain of custody. Sample labels are signed by both the registrant and the sampler.

Samples are also labeled with a unique identification number, plus the registrant’s proof of registration, pre-harvest report, seed certification documentation for the seed cultivar used, THC testing report for each certified seed cultivar used and a sample analysis request form with chain of custody information provided by the testing laboratory. These samples must be delivered to the testing laboratory within 24 hours of collection, where the testing laboratory will document the chain of custody by signing the sample label upon receiving it.

If the laboratory test report indicates a percentage content of THC greater than three-tenths of 1% and does not exceed 1%, additional samples for retesting can be collected.

According to state law, growers may harvest the sampled crop upon receipt of a laboratory test report that indicates a percentage content of THC that is within the legal limits. Upon harvesting, farmers must submit a harvest report to the commissioner within 72 hours. The harvest report must include the registration number, name and contact information of the registrant, dates of harvest, name of the cultivars and unique sample identification numbers, physical address, GPS coordinates, general description of the location and acreage of the harvested crop.

Farmers must destroy a crop that does not comply with the THC limit. Eradication must take place as soon as practicable, but no later than 45 days after the registrant’s receipt of a second laboratory test report.

Even destruction is highly regulated. The grower has to submit a destruction plan to the commissioner at least 24 hours before the start of the destruction. This plan includes the registration number; name and contact information of the grower; anticipated destruction dates of the crop to be destroyed; name of the cultivars and unique sample identification numbers; physical address, GPS coordinates, general description of the property and acreage of the crop to be destroyed and proposed destruction method. The commissioner will confirm the destruction of the crop by conducting inspections.

The yearly registration fee to grow hemp is $900. Also, in accordance with the California Food and Agricultural Code, a county board of supervisors may also establish a fee to cover the costs of the commissioner and the county of implementing, administering and enforcing the provisions of the code.

According to state law, “Registration is valid for one year from date of issuance. Registrants must renew their registrations should they continue to grow industrial hemp after the one year expires.”

With the required permitting, registration, fees and rules, growing hemp may be complicated but an endeavor that may be undertaken by many of the Anza Valley’s residents.

To learn more, email industrialhemp@cdfa.ca.gov or call the California Department of Food and Agriculture at (916) 654-0435.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.