County su­per­vi­sors to look at im­pacts of le­gal­ized hemp

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Wes Bow­ers NEWS-SEN­TINEL STAFF WRITER

The San Joaquin County Board of Su­per­vi­sors could soon con­sider le­gal­iz­ing hemp if it is de­ter­mined the prod­uct’s ben­e­fits out­weigh those of com­mer­cial cannabis.

County staff will be pre­sent­ing in­for­ma­tion to su­per­vi­sors be­fore the end of Septem­ber, in the wake of the state’s Leg­is­la­ture le­gal­iz­ing hemp last year with the passage of Se­nate Bill 1409.

Su­per­vi­sors in April placed a mora­to­rium on le­gal­iz­ing hemp that ends Sept. 22.

Hemp and its im­pacts on com­mer­cial cannabis were dis­cussed Tues­day af­ter San Joaquin County Sher­iff Pat Withrow told su­per­vi­sors that the THC level in hemp is lower than that of cannabis. It’s dif­fi­cult for thieves, il­le­gal deal­ers and even law en­force­ment of­fi­cials to know that un­less the plant is tested, he said.

“When of­fi­cers pull over a truck load of plants, we can’t test it right there on the side of the road to find out if it’s hemp or has a lower THC level,” he said. “We take it into cus­tody, store it, have it tested. We have to pay for all that. And if it is be­low the THC level (of cannabis), we have to re­turn it to its owner.”

Withrow also warned of some of the pit­falls com­mer­cial cannabis might bring to the county, in­clud­ing an in­crease in il­le­gal grows.

He cited Calav­eras County as an ex­am­ple. Calav­eras County su­per­vi­sors adopted an or­di­nance ban­ning com­mer­cial cannabis grows in Jan­uary 2018.

Com­mer­cial grow­ers who suc­cess­fully reg­is­tered for per­mits un­der a 2016 or­di­nance al­low­ing grows, and those whose ap­pli­ca­tions were pend­ing, had 90 days to com­ply with the ban.

But law en­force­ment agen­cies there have seized some 30,600 plants in 2019.

“The peo­ple who want to do this le­gally and get per­mits and want to start a busi­ness in this area will fol­low all the rules and do what’s needed and bring in some rev­enue,” Withrow said. “But along with that will come hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of il­le­gal grows.”

San Joaquin County su­per­vi­sors on May 21 voted to al­low com­mer­cial cannabis busi­nesses in un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas of the county, and there are now about 20 ap­pli­cants wait­ing to be ap­proved.

Su­per­vi­sors asked Withrow if he had en­coun­tered any il­le­gal grows like Calav­eras County had ex­pe­ri­enced. He said law en­force­ment agen­cies un­cov­ered 58 homes sev­eral years ago in the Lathrop area that net­ted thou­sands of plants.

The Sher­iff’s Of­fice has re­ceived sev­eral calls from the farm­ing com­mu­nity about green­houses where sus­pected il­le­gal grows are be­ing con­ducted as well, he added.

How­ever, he wasn’t try­ing to con­vince su­per­vi­sors to re­verse their May 21 de­ci­sion, Withrow said.

“We’ll sup­port what­ever de­ci­sion su­per­vi­sors make, and we’ll make it work for the county,” he said. “I want all busi­nesses, in­clud­ing our cannabis busi­nesses, to be safe.”

Su­per­vi­sor Tom Patti, who rep­re­sents the county’s third dis­trict, sug­gested en­act­ing a mora­to­rium on cannabis Tues­day night un­til his col­leagues could de­ter­mine how to pro­ceed with le­gal­iz­ing hemp.

“In light of the fact that hemp is a new el­e­ment that’s far less ne­far­i­ous ... and there are farm­ers in­ter­ested in hemp that aren’t in­ter­ested in cannabis, I would sug­gest a mora­to­rium on our cannabis el­e­ment un­til we fac­tor in what we could be do­ing with hemp,” he said. “Which has, ac­cord­ing to my un­der­stand­ing, a bet­ter, greater value and cheaper en­try point for our lo­cal farm­ers and could ben­e­fit San Joaquin County as a less ne­far­i­ous com­mod­ity.”

Lo­cal farmer Brad Eh­lers said his fam­ily was in­ter­ested in grow­ing hemp to gen­er­ate some ex­tra in­come, and given the plant is used in 25,000 prod­ucts through­out the world, it would be more ben­e­fi­cial than cannabis.

“Ev­ery­one knows Cal­i­for­nia farm­ing is tough right now, and now we’ve been given an op­por­tu­nity to grow a life-chang­ing com­mod­ity,” he said.

Su­per­vi­sor Kathy Miller, who rep­re­sents the county’s sec­ond dis­trict, was against plac­ing an­other mora­to­rium on cannabis, stat­ing it was un­fair to make com­par­isons to Calav­eras County and the amount of il­le­gal grows dis­cov­ered there.

“Our ap­proach could not be any more dif­fer­ent then the ap­proach Calav­eras County took,” she said. “Calav­eras County ba­si­cally threw open the doors and said, ‘Come on in, we want every­body.’ And it was a free for all. Then (su­per­vi­sors) started flipping back and forth.”

Su­per­vi­sor Chuck Winn, who rep­re­sents Dis­trict 4, agreed that a mora­to­rium should not be an op­tion.

“One of the things I’ve found in the past when these things are sprung upon the board, is that the pub­lic — who may be very in­ter­ested in weigh­ing in on this — hasn’t been in­formed,” he said. “There­fore, I think it’s un­fair for them not to have that op­por­tu­nity be­fore we make any de­ci­sion.”

How­ever, Deputy County Coun­sel Robert Flores said be­cause Tues­day’s cannabis is­sue was a dis­cus­sion item, su­per­vi­sors could not take any ac­tion to im­pose a mora­to­rium. They could, how­ever, place a mora­to­rium con­sid­er­a­tion on the same agenda in which they will dis­cuss hemp, he said.

The su­per­vi­sors are sched­uled to meet July 23, Aug. 13 and 27, and Sept. 10 be­fore the hemp mora­to­rium comes to an end. Meet­ings start at 9 a.m. on the sixth floor of the San Joaquin County Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing, 44 N. San Joaquin St. in Stockton.

RYAN C. HERMENS/LEX­ING­TON HER­ALD-LEADER FILE PHO­TO­GRAPH

Hemp grows at But­ler Farms in Bour­bon County, Ken­tucky, on June 21. But­ler Farms has the first U.S. con­tract with Patag­o­nia as an or­ganic hemp sup­plier.

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