Trinity County has extended a temporary ban on the cultivation of industrial hemp for a second year in an urgency ordinance approved by the Board of Supervisors last week.

The moratorium was originally enacted by the board in June last year for a 45-day period. That was extended for another 10 and a half months by further board action in August. Last week’s 4-1 board vote extended the moratorium through June 2021.

Trinity County Agricultural Commissioner Joseph Moreo said the regulation of industrial hemp at the federal and state levels is evolving almost daily and is complicated by the fact that the definition of industrial hemp does not address cannabidiol (CBD). Industrial hemp is defined as any cannabis plant with no more than three-tenths of one percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

He noted that varieties of cannabis grown for CBD are considered to be medical marijuana and have been permitted as such at the local and state level.

“Under the proposed industrial hemp regulation this would change and undermine regulations established by and in response to the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act,” Moreo wrote in his request to extend the county’s urgency ordinance another year. He said the extension would allow time to develop a permanent ordinance to restrict the cultivation of industrial hemp in Trinity County.

He argued that denying the extension would allow growers to begin cultivating industrial hemp under permit from the county Agriculture Department.

“This could cause pollination of existing cannabis producers’ crops if the hemp producer is not diligent in removing male plants. Because cannabis is wind-pollinated, this could result in cross pollination and lowering the value of neighboring growers’ cannabis significantly, possibly rendering it worthless. This would cause undue hardship on established growers in Trinity County,” he said.

Moreo said he was initially contacted by approximately half a dozen people interested in growing industrial hemp in Trinity County, “but the bloom is off the rose now. A lot of people who took off to make a million dollars growing hemp in Oregon lost their shirts. Now the interest has dropped to zero here.”

He added that he originally believed that both hemp and cannabis could co-exist in Trinity County, but not anymore.

“It cross pollinates through the air and isn’t what we traditionally grow here, so how do you protect the traditional crop around here?” he said.

Furthermore, he said hemp is classified as an agricultural commodity which does not require the completion of an Environmental Impact Study, but cannabis is a crop that does require an EIS to address and mitigate nearly all of the same issues including odor and water usage surrounding the cultivation of hemp.

“This gives us more time. I’ve had no complaints from the hemp side that we had a moratorium. If anyone is still interested in hemp, please contact us. We need a breeder program and we’re a long way from that. We don’t have flat ground or lots of water, and what we do have is already taken. The federal government owns about 85 percent. Hemp is not a good fit here in Trinity County. If I could figure out a way to legally ban it, I would do that,” Moreo said.

He said he believes a permanent ban would require voter consent, but Sup. Keith Groves disagreed, saying he believes the Board of Supervisors has the authority to adopt a ban.

“This urgency ordinance means you only have one year left. If you feel it is not a compatible crop for Trinity County, then let’s ban it and start working on the breeding ordinance as soon as possible,” Groves said.

Moreo said the Central Valley “has the production. It has deep soil, lots of water, lots of private ground and growers. We are primarily timber, cannabis and a few wineries. We have a little bit of livestock, comparable to one large ranch in Modoc County. The problem with hemp is its ability to contaminate your neighbors.”

A member of the public commented that the majority of hemp producers he’s aware of “are using it to circumvent cannabis rules, so I hope you can support this ordinance to protect the legal cannabis growers of Trinity County.”

John Brower of Junction City thanked the Ag Department “for getting and staying out in front on this. We need to continue to study what a controlled breeding program might look like before moving forward with industrial hemp in Trinity County. We could lose our genetic strains here just through some random pollination by hemp. That would be a tragedy.”

Sups. Bobbi Chadwick and Keith Groves agreed there is nothing to stop the ag commissioner from working with county counsel to bring forward a permanent hemp ban for the board to consider.

“I fully support this year-long ban, but I want a plan for this period. You have to decide where you’re going with this in the next 12 months,” Groves said. Sup. John Fenley was opposed to the extension of the urgency ordinance.

Moreo noted that Sonoma County has banned industrial hemp, “but it relies on a robust general plan for that, and we don’t have that framework so it’s problematic.”

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