Humboldt County hemp ban expires Friday

Board of Supervisors delays vote to extend moratorium

With just four supervisors in attendance, chair Rex Bohn didn’t feel comfortable moving forward with a hemp moratorium vote, which would require four-fifths approval. (Shomik Mukherjee — The Times-Standard file)
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The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors today delayed a vote on a six-month extension of the county’s temporary ban on industrial hemp.

Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass’ absence from the board’s Tuesday meeting prompted 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn, the board chair, to “kick (the vote) down the road” for a later meeting.

“We’re a short board and this is a four-fifths item,” said Bohn; any extension would require the votes of four out of the board’s five supervisors.

The idea stems from the sudden legalization of industrial hemp last year with the passage of the federal farm bill. Hemp, a variant of the cannabis plant, is now legal everywhere, while all other kinds of cannabis remain outlawed on the federal level.

Facing the potential of a totally unregulated hemp market alongside a heavily regulated cannabis industry, the board passed the moratorium in early April to buy county officials time to figure out regulations for the product.

The 45-day moratorium expires Friday, but the county has yet to enact a hemp ordinance.

Such an ordinance could emulate existing regulations for commercial cannabis, Planning and Building director John Ford said.

Hemp, a variant of the cannabis plant, can be used practically to make clothing or rope, but it can also be used to create compounds extremely similar to cannabinoids like CBD.

That could lead to a loophole in the local cannabis industry, since naturally derived cannabis comes with regulations and taxes while hemp currently doesn’t.

“We just can’t have instant (hemp legalization) without regulations,” said 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell. “We’ve got to take it out. We’ve got to do it well.”

While other supervisors agreed that extending the moratorium would be necessary, 5th District Supervisor Steve Madrone disagreed.

Madrone said he appreciated how long it takes to build regulations from scratch, but the extensive delay, he added, is jeopardizing a crucial window of time for local hemp growers to establish their foothold in the larger industry.

“One of the important points made at that (April) hearing was that let’s do something in 45 days that doesn’t cause us to lose the season and lose the opportunity for people to make these investments and create this economic development,” Madrone said.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson emphasized that dealing with these regulations will require local input, especially given the “biases” that exist toward different kinds of cannabis versus industrial hemp.

“It’s a long-standing culture war,” Wilson said. “We’re trying to mitigate for this cultural shift we’re seeing.”

Thomas Mulder, CEO of Humboldt Redwood Healing, supported the moratorium at public comment, saying an unregulated hemp industry could lead to an uncertain future for local cannabis.

“It could be a Pandora’s box if it’s a free-for-all,” Mulder said.

Scott Davies, the founder of Wintermore Farms, downplayed the importance of local investment in hemp as a product.

“We don’t have the sufficient farmland to make this crop economically viable in Humboldt County,” he said. “We do not have the proper climate, and we don’t even have a processing facility for hemp. So I don’t see why we would even entertain the impacts when there’s no clear economic benefit.”

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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