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Another battle over local control of cannabis is about to roil California.

Only this time, its marijuanas mellow cousin, hemp, thats at the heart of disputes that engulf cities, counties and the state — and farmers who hope to grow the potentially lucrative crop.

On April 30, about two and a half years after California voters lifted a decades-long ban on the cultivation of industrial hemp, the California Department of Food and Agriculture abruptly gave the go-ahead for farmers to register with counties for permission to grow hemp strains of cannabis, a plant that has virtually no trace of the compound in marijuana that makes consumers high. Farmers thought they just needed to fill out the states one-page registration form, pay a $900 annual fee, and get hemp seeds in the ground before the window closed on this years planting season.

But state regulations left it up to agricultural commissioners for Californias 58 counties to process hemp registration. And those commissioners are coming up with their own interpretations of the state law, creating a patchwork of restrictive and often contradictory policies for hemp, not unlike the complex rules that exist for the marijuana industry.

So far, only 22 counties — including Ventura, San Diego and Imperial — are accepting hemp registration forms, the Southern California News Group has learned. Over the past two weeks, California counties have accepted nearly 60 applications from farmers who hope to grow hemp that they can sell to makers of energy-efficient construction materials, durable fabrics, nutritional foods and CBD, a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis thats triggered a $1 billion (and growing) market for its touted therapeutic benefits.

The other 35 counties say theyre either waiting on more information from the state or have passed moratoriums on hemp farming, moratoriums that in some cases are scheduled to run to 2021. And though hemp farming is legal under both state and federal law, some counties say they might use their police powers and zoning laws to ban hemp cultivation altogether.

“Unfortunately, it feels like the counties and the county agricultural commissioners think they have more authority right now than they really have,” said Patrick Goggin, a San Francisco attorney whos been advocating for legal hemp for 15 years.

“We could be headed for some serious battles.”

Hemp farming begins

In November 2016, when voters legalized recreational marijuana through Proposition 64, they opted to let cities and counties decide whether marijuana businesses could set up shop within their borders. A database of cannabis policies shows that even now some 80 percent of all California jurisdictions have used that power to ban all marijuana shops, triggering legislation aimed at forcing more cities to open access. Meanwhile, 25 local governments are suing the state over a rule that permits marijuana deliveries even in communities that have banned the industry.

The hemp industry was supposed to be less complicated — particularly after December, when President Donald Trump signed a Farm Bill that removed hemp from the federal list of controlled substances.

Hemp industries are already booming in places like Colorado, Oregon and Nevada. Within the past few weeks, Georgia, Iowa and Indiana also have taken steps to launch hemp farming.

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After lengthy delays, California regulations enacted on April 30 say that if farmers meet all of the criteria, complete applications, and pay their fees, agricultural commissioners “shall” register them to legally grow hemp.

“Its a right,” Goggin said. “There is no discretion.”

Some counties are operating that way. San Luis Obispo County has received the most hemp farming registrations so far, with 15 applications, which are being processed. San Diego County is a close second at 13.

Other counties are tacking on additional requirements. For example, in addition to state applications Inyo County requires hemp farmers to apply for conditional use permits, which typically cost $1,490.

Hemp isnt without challenges. Odor from hemp farms can be problematic for nearby neighbors. And, if hemp is grown near recreational marijuana, the pollen from hemp can drift into the cannabis and lower the THC levels of the marijuana plants, making those plants less powerful for recreational use. So Goggin, among others, believes some additional local oversight for hemp farms is appropriate.

Most counties block hemp farming

But most California counties simply arent accepting any applications from people hoping to grow industrial hemp. And some of those counties, advocates say, are refusing to even speak with would-be hemp farmers.

“Its really frustrating,” said Chris Boucher, who started off with a hemp clothing shop in Costa Mesa in 1990 and is widely viewed as a pioneer of the legal hemp industry.

“We pay their salaries and theyre not following the law,” Boucher said of the regulators. “Their opinions are hurting farmers, and were losing millions and millions of dollars.”

At least some of the hangup surrounds the miscRead More – Source