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Supes Ok Hemp Rule Despite Opposition

The Board of Supervisors approved a controversial Hemp Ordinance, discussed in some detail in this space two weeks ago, by a 3-to-2 vote at their Tuesday, Oct. 20 meeting.

It’s actually a 2-year pilot program with a cap of five hemp permits per year, but pot farmers fear that, among other things, pollen from male hemp will cross-pollenate with female ganja plants, thus damaging or destroying their crops by “going to seed.”

Although the Board was inundated with written objections and public comments opposed to the ordinance, only John Haschak and Ted Williams, of the 3rd and 5th Districts respectively, were moved by their arguments. Supes John McCowen, Carre Brown, and Dan Gjerde backed the proposed Hemp Ordinance. 

In an attempt to alleviate fears of pot farmers that male pollen would travel from hemp cultivation sites to cannabis cultivation sites, where it would cross-pollinate with female cannabis plants, Ag Commissioner Jim Donnelly said the Ordinance would mandate the implementation of the strictest best management practices, including:

• Pollen from male hemp plants is prohibited pursuant to the ordinance. 

• Cultivators should conduct regular inspections of the planting to ensure no male Industrial Hemp plants are growing outdoors. If a male hemp plant is found, the cultivator must remove the male plant from the planting area and destroy it so that no male plant material is present in the growing area. 

• After hemp plants pass five to six weeks of growth and flowering has initiated, Mendocino County Agricultural Inspectors shall inspect the plantings weekly for presence of male plants. The Department of Agriculture will develop an inspection protocol to examine the cultivation and detect male industrial hemp plants. 

Donnelly explained that the inspections do not entail checking entire fields but are random selections of small areas, which is the standard methodology for agricultural inspections. 

When Donnelly was asked by Supe Williams if he could “guarantee” that all of these measures would succeed in protecting commercial pot from male hemp cross-contamination, Donnelly replied, “I can’t give guarantees of anything. Other counties are telling me they aren’t having any issues. I think Lake County is having some issues because they just let hemp go without restrictions, but our county is being very careful with the restrictions.”

Both Williams and Haschak indicated they would prefer delaying action on implementing the Hemp Ordinance until another county has proven that hemp and pot can co-exist successfully, at which point “we can copy them,” Williams said. 

The ordinance calls for fees to offset the various costs of the hemp cultivation program. Proposed fees are intended to come before the Board later this year. 

When I spoke to my resident experts on hemp farming, they were less than impressed with the County’s due diligence surrounding a number of issues, including inspection protocols. They believe the whole program is probably headed toward failure. Isn’t that surprising? 

Here’s what they say on inspection.

There are two main kinds of hemp in an economic sense: industrial and medicinal. 

Industrial hemp is used to make a variety of commercial and industrial products, including rope, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, bioplastics, insulation, and biofuel.

Medicinal hemp is a variant of the plant Cannabis Sativa L (the same plant that produces medical marijuana). It is described as containing very low amounts of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (more commonly known as THC). This THC threshold provides the biggest differentiation between hemp and marijuana.

The Hempsters explained that the growing methods for medicinal hemp and industrial hemp are entirely different. Medical hemp is grown the same as regular pot, in stand-alone areas of single plants. Industrial hemp is usually grown the same way as field crops such as wheat, oats, alfalfa, etc. It’s not separated by rows with in-between spacing in the rows as is the case with corn. I have some familiarity with the subject since I was raised in both Illinois and California because my family owned land and homes in both states. We grew corn, soybeans, oats, and wheat on our Illinois farmland. There were also small remnants of old hemp fields left over from WWII, but I never paid much attention to them until I was a teenager in the late ‘60s and kids thought you could smoke the stuff. We all found out hemp was not pot, absolutely no high at all.

Anyway, hemp experts point out that due to the different growing methods for industrial hemp versus medicinal hemp, the former is nearly impossible to inspect for male plants because one acre of hemp would contain on average 400,000 tightly compressed plants, while the latter is super easy because they’re isolated single plantings.

So I guess if everyone grew medicinal hemp there would be little if any inspection problems, but just the opposite with industrial hemp. Interestingly enough, the Ag Commish told the Supes he would most likely need to hire extra personnel just to inspect and administer the five proposed permits to be issued for the two-year pilot program. Sound familiar?

La Niña Winter On The Way

I’m something of a semi-pro weatherman since my paper, the Mendocino County Observer, is an official recorder and keeper of weather records.

I’ve been saying since February (and the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor reports confirms it), we are in a severe drought.

Here in Mendocino County the drought has split the county almost exactly in half with the eastern area designated as “Extreme Drought,” while the west is in the “Severe Drought” category.

Interestingly enough, SoCal is in pretty good shape with the Coastal Area being drought-free, while the interior to the Eastern Sierras is classified in a range from “Abnormally Dry” to “Moderate Drought.”

Over the past 20 years, California has had three stretches of short-term drought: 2000-2003, 2007-2009 and 2012 to 2016. Former Gov. Jerry Brown declared the 2012-2016 drought over when reservoirs, lakes, and rivers filled after a series of huge storms and above average rainfall in 2017.

But a recent study concludes that we may have been wrong in our assessment of the duration of droughts. Some experts now argue that some droughts should be measured in decades not years. So it looks more like the three individual droughts starting in 2000, when viewed in the larger scale, are really just one long drought interrupted by several years of wet weather. Interesting theory.

Regardless of how one measures the length of droughts, Felicia Marcus, former chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, says that California needs to accelerate reforms that came out of that drought. Those include building more off-stream reservoirs to capture water in wet years, expanding conservation programs like paying people to replace lawns with water-efficient landscaping, recycling more wastewater for irrigation and other uses, capturing storm water, and other solutions. Because even when it seems like a drought may be over, it will return, she said.

“We’ve already had the wakeup call of the century in our drought, and this study is just more evidence of the fact that we need to light a fire under our efforts,” Marcus said. “We are living in something of a dreamworld. Modern California — our economy, agriculture and our ecosystems — are built around water. This is just one more alert that business as usual just won’t cut it. How many reminders do we need?”

Anyway, this winter is for sure a La Niña event according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which should mean a cold and stormier winter than normal for Northern California and up through Western Oregon and Washington while the southern tier stays drier, with warmer than average temperatures.

It’s gearing up with Mendocino County being the dividing line in California, where everything south of us (and probably including us) should be dry and a mild winter. 

All right, there you have it, winter weather is now known to all, make your plans accordingly.

(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: