The Riverside County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a 10-month extension of a temporary ordinance prohibiting the industrial cultivation of hemp in unincorporated communities for public safety reasons.
One month ago, the supervisors approved the prohibition as an urgency item. The urgency provision was set to expire next week, when the board will not be in session, so the 5-0 vote implementing the extension was necessary to prevent the interim ordinance from timing out, which the Office of County Counsel and the Office of the Agricultural Commissioner advised against.
The board last week directed county attorneys and agencies to proceed with drafting a set of regulations that, if approved, would permit commercial cannabis cultivation and sales in unincorporated areas. Hemp manufacturing is likely to be a part of that regulatory scheme, which is expected to be completed and submitted for board consideration in the next six months.
All forms of commercial marijuana distribution and sales are prohibited in unincorporated communities countywide. Cities are not affected by the ban, however.
According to the Office of County Counsel, the hemp-specific prohibition stems from the same “threats to the public health, safety and welfare” that are posed by the “unpermitted cultivation of cannabis.”
“Such urgent and immediate threats include, but are not limited to, an increased likelihood of criminal activity, the attraction of crime and associated violence, a strain on county resources, and a detrimental impact on agriculture within the region resulting from exotic weeds, plant diseases, mites and other insects that are prevalent in industrial hemp,” county attorneys wrote in the interim ordinance.
They acknowledged that Senate Bill 94, which established the Medicinal & Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation & Safety Act last June, as well as Proposition 64, which voters statewide approved in November 2016, open the way for industrial production of hemp, just like commercial cultivation of its close relative, marijuana.
However, the current regulatory framework is vague and slated for revision by the California Department of Food and Agriculture by way of its Industrial Hemp Advisory Board, which is expected to bring forward recommendations this fall.
The federal Agricultural Act recognizes that institutions of higher learning and state agencies, or entities under state contract, may engage in hemp production for research purposes. County staff said UC Riverside is proceeding with a hemp research project, and the interim ordinance will not create a barrier.
The main difference between hemp and unadulterated marijuana is the tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — content. Hemp leaves have about three-tenths of 1 percent of the compounds contained in cannabis leaves, according to the Office of County Counsel.
“The physical appearance of cannabis and industrial hemp (is) virtually the same, and the only way to distinguish them is to test for the THC content,” attorneys wrote.
The ordinance is to be enforced by sheriff’s deputies and code enforcement officers.