It came as no surprise on Tuesday, Oct. 6, when the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a funding request by Sheriff Matt Kendall to obliterate a spike in violent pot robberies (I’ll have more on this later but the plan is to tap various state pot tax-and-fee generated funds available for law enforcement), as well as giving the go-ahead to a 2-year pilot program that allows industrial hemp cultivation, the latter by a 3-2 vote (John Haschak, Ted Williams no). The Hemp Program was ok’d by Supes Carre Brown, Dan Gjerde, and John McCowen despite opposition from cannabis growers and organizations that represent the pot industry.
According to a staff report, the pilot program is designed to last for two years, 2021 and 2022. A maximum of five licenses will be issued in each year, with applicants for licenses selected through a request for proposals process. Hemp cultivation shall not be allowed without the issuance of a County license by the Agricultural Commissioner.
The County’s existing moratorium on hemp cultivation would expire in February 2021, and no further extensions are available.
The new program ordinance replaces a February 26, 2019, urgency Ordinance that temporarily prohibited the cultivation of industrial hemp, pending a study and consideration of land use and existing regulations pertaining to such activity. The urgency ordinance was adopted in response to concerns regarding the compatibility of industrial hemp and commercial cannabis, as well as uncertainty regarding how we regulate industrial hemp. The Board of Supervisors later extended the moratorium on April 9, 2019, and again on February 4, 2020.
The new ordinance provides for certain standards for industrial hemp cultivation, which are intended to limit the potential impact of hemp cultivation on cannabis cultivation in the County. In particular, all industrial hemp cultivation must use cloned plants, male hemp plants shall be prohibited, and cultivation for the purpose of seed or nursery production is prohibited. A primary concern of the urgency ordinance adopted by the County was that male hemp pollen would travel from hemp cultivation sites to cannabis cultivation sites, where it would cross-pollinate with female cannabis plants and diminish the value of the cannabis. The goal of the standards stated in the ordinance is to minimize the risk.
According to the County Ag Department, since “industrial hemp is an agricultural crop under federal and state law, and is reasonably classified as a row and field crop as defined in section 20.032.015 of the Mendocino County Code. A row and field crop is defined as ‘premises devoted to the cultivation for sale of agricultural products grown in regular or scattered patterns such as vines, field, forage and other plant crops intended to provide food or fibers.’ Row and field crop is a use allowed by right in many zoning districts. The regulations proposed by this ordinance purely restrict agricultural crop production by placing a cap on the number of cultivation sites, requiring a request for proposals process, and places limitations on the types of plants that may be cultivated. The regulations are limiting activities that would otherwise be allowed and provide for oversight and enforcement; the regulations do not expand allowable uses or activities.”
Among a number of objections to the new Hemp Ordinance, the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance (MCA) stated, “This current pilot program proposal indicates that hemp production would be allowed in any zone in which row and field crop cultivation is allowed, where the parcel size is more than 10 acres. This would include Rangeland, Forestland, and Timber Production Zones, where installation of new cannabis cultivation sites is currently prohibited, even at the maximum canopy size of 1⁄4 acre allowed in the county. Allowing hemp production in these zones, perhaps at scales 10 or more times the size of that allowed for cannabis with far less environmental compliance requirements, could easily and quickly have a far more dramatic environmental impact on our county than the entire cannabis program.”
MCA also pointed out that “According to a 2019 article by James DeDecker at the Michigan State University College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, “Industry experts recommend a minimum distance of 10 miles between outdoor cannabis fields. Research has shown that pollen can travel much further than 10 miles, but the amount of pollen transported decreases logarithmically with increasing distance from the source. Therefore, the risk of pollination should be negligible beyond ten miles from a pollen source. This proposal does not include a minimum distance requirement. In fact, as a practical matter, it would be difficult to impose a distance that is sufficient to protect against pollen drift.”
Public Safety Emergency?
As discussed here a few days ago, Sheriff Matt Kendall went public with a joint plea to citizens and the Board of Supervisors for support in combatting escalating violence associated with pot-related home invasions, kidnappings, and rip-offs all involving heavily armed criminals from outside the county. By the way, this is the classic “tip of the iceberg” issue given that it’s estimated that 90 percent of such crimes are not reported to authorities.
The Sheriff’s PR campaign paid off at last Tuesday’s BOS meeting as evidenced by a unanimous decision to back Kendall’s plan to beef up ranks by at least 10 deputies at an estimated cost of $2.2 million.
To that end, the Supes plan to declare a County emergency that would certainly cite elevated public safety concerns and the rise in violence related to cannabis-related crimes. That declaration would open the door for additional potential funding sources at the state and federal levels of government.
In reality, if the Sheriff also takes on cartels and other bad actors with their mega-grows who ride roughshod over isolated communities in the North County, he’s going to need additional resources, including personnel, equipment and money.
Funding for the Sheriff’s operational plan should not prove insurmountable given available options that include:
• A recent settlement payment to the County by PG&E of $24 million for its liability in the 2017 Northcoast wildfires;
• As well other funds generated by state cannabis taxes, penalties, and fees.
Regarding state pot funding sources commonly called “cannabis tax revenue social allocations,” state Cannabis Regulatory Legislation earmarks all cannabis tax revenue—less regulatory costs—for public health, the environment, and public safety. At the beginning of the year, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced social allocations totaling $332.8 million for fiscal year 2020-2021. I’m sure that the Sheriff and County staff will be contacting state officials to verify whether the proposed local plan qualifies for enforcement-related activities under the public safety account.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org)