At staff’s request to make further refinements, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday postponed debate on a series of regulations regarding where and how hemp growers can operate in unincorporated areas of Riverside County.
A formal hearing on the proposed Industrial Hemp Cultivation & Manufacturing Ordinance was on the board’s agenda, but Transportation & Land Management Agency administrators requested a delay to Nov. 3 in order to make unspecified modifications, possibly related to property setbacks, which several residents addressed prior to the supervisors rescheduling the hearing.
“This ordinance has been put together without research,” Nuevo resident Claude Trout told the board. “Crime is rampant around hemp grows, and we have no water in Nuevo. We have to buy it from the Metropolitan Water District. This ordinance has setbacks of 25 feet from property boundaries, but for schools, it’s 1,000 feet. Those same children have greater protection at school than when they go home (where a grow could be next door).”
Esther Munoz, also from Nuevo, complained, too, that the setbacks were insufficient and submitted petitions from her neighbors citing concerns.
“More are coming in,” she said. “The reason is, you have people with respiratory issues at home. The same zoning and setbacks created for schools should be around homes.”
At the initial hearing on the ordinance last month, Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Karen Spiegel expressed reservations about the limited reach of the proposed buffer zones for hemp grows.
The ordinance would only expressly prohibit any hemp cultivation — indoor or outdoor — in unincorporated communities within the Santa Margarita River Watershed, extending roughly from De Luz, just west of Temecula, east to Anza, south to the San Diego County line and north to Diamond Valley Lake near Hemet.
The space encompasses parts of the Eastern Municipal and Western Municipal water districts, as well as all of the Rancho California Water District.
“The purpose of restricting industrial hemp cultivation in the Santa Margarita River Watershed is to address the issue of water availability, as industrial hemp tends to be a heavy water consuming agricultural crop, and there is no proposed limitation to grow areas,” according to a TLMA statement.
The ordinance would supersede all prior regulations and establish controls on plot arrangements tied to both indoor and outdoor hemp grows, which are legal countywide but require registration and licensing through the county Office of the Agricultural Commissioner.
Under the new ordinance, registration and licensing would continue, but through TLMA, and permits would be good for a maximum of 10 years.
At the September hearing, several farmers testified that hemp grows might divert water in places where it’s already scarce for other long-standing agricultural uses, while corporate hemp industry representatives lauded the ordinance for establishing clear guidelines.
Requirements under the proposal include:
— indoor and outdoor hemp cultivation must be a minimum of 1,000 feet from all schools, daycare centers, public parks and youth centers;
— indoor hemp grows must be inside fully enclosed spaces and must be a minimum of 25 feet from the nearest adjoining residential or commercial plot line;
— in specifically zoned areas, covering most of the county, outdoor hemp cultivation must be set back a minimum of 100 feet from an adjoining plot boundary, and farther depending on the size of the operation, which can range from five to more than 160 acres;
— all indoor cultivation sites must rely on 20% renewable energy for production;
— all indoor and outdoor sites must have water conservation and recapturing mechanisms to “minimize use of water where feasible”; and
— all sites must receive prior scrutiny by their local water agency to show that they do not pose a risk of excess or wasteful water consumption.
The main difference between hemp and unadulterated marijuana is the tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — content. Hemp leaves have about three-tenths of 1% of the compounds contained in cannabis leaves, according to the Office of County Counsel.
Advocates of hemp production and research say its properties have proven benefits in treating some skin and heart disorders. It’s also used in clothing and other commercial applications.
Unlike cannabis, hemp is not federally designated as a controlled substance, and production is permitted on Native American lands, under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians began permitting hemp grows near Mountain Center in January.
Countywide, there are 110 registered growers, as well as 13 licensed seed breeders, according to TLMA.
The ordinance proposes limitations on hours of operation to reduce noise, and hemp production would not be permitted to be co-located with cannabis grows. However, to date, the board has not authorized a single commercial marijuana farm in an unincorporated area.
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