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Field with industrial hemp plants

Field with industrial hemp plants

While Napa County figures out whether to allow commercial recreational cannabis grows, it wants to make certain no one starts growing industrial hemp.

Industrial hemp can be used to make paper, clothes and other products. It is a strain of cannabis, but must have no more than .3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in recreational cannabis, experts say.

The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed an immediate, urgency moratorium on growing industrial hemp. The moratorium expires in 45 days and can be renewed for longer periods.

Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Anna Norton told supervisors that the goal is to protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens and agriculture. The 2018 federal farm bill opened the door to cultivating industrial hemp, but laws are still evolving.

“You don’t want to hang your pictures before the dry wall is up,” Norton said, quoting her construction-worker father.

The industrial hemp moratorium came on the same day the Board of Supervisors ordered a report on a citizens initiative to allow and regulate commercial, recreational cannabis cultivation and activities. Voters could decide the recreational cannabis issue in the March election.

One primary concern with industrial hemp is law enforcement and code enforcement would need to differentiate between industrial hemp and marijuana cannabis. The way to tell is to wait for the plants to mature and test for THC levels, Norton said.

Given that industrial hemp and marijuana cannabis look the same when growing, hemp growers could face safety concerns and crime, Norton told supervisors. Twenty-seven of California’s 58 counties have industrial hemp moratoriums.

Napa County officials said they have received no credible requests to grow industrial hemp locally. But a commercial grower or a researcher could attempt to register with the county at any time.

The urgency law passed by Napa County supervisors lists a host of reasons for an industrial hemp moratorium. Among them:

- Industrial hemp could bring mites or fungal disease that could move into nearby vineyards. There are few pesticides registered for hemp to combat the pests.

- Should Napa County allow recreational cannabis cultivation, pollen drift from industrial hemp grown for seed could hurt the cultivation of cannabis plants.

- The Sheriff’s Office would have to investigate each industrial hemp grow, which could be time consuming, labor intensive and possibly dangerous.

- Cultivation of industrial hemp prior to adopting reasonable regulations would create an increased likelihood of crime.

“What’s our game plan for ending the moratorium?” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said.

In 45 days, the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office will come back to the Board of Supervisors with more information. The state by then will hopefully resolve its pending legislation on industrial hemp, Norton said.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.