Industrial Hemp Update: Sonoma County

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, there have been significant changes to the federal, state, and local regulation of industrial hemp. In October of 2019, the USDA issued an “Interim Federal Rule” which requires states that want to assume regulatory authority over hemp to submit a plan to the USDA for its approval. Per the Interim Federal Rule, the state plans must include various processes for the collection and retention of information regarding the land used for hemp production, for sampling and testing, for disposing of non-compliant plants, and for enforcement, among other things. As of the date of this publication, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has not yet submitted a proposed state regulatory plan to the USDA for review and approval, but is in the process of preparing a plan for submission. Consequently, only county registration is available and required under California state law for growers and breeders of industrial hemp. The annual State registration fee is $900 (per grower per county) and is collected by and remitted to the state by the county’s agricultural commissioner’s office.

Sonoma County

In April of 2019, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a moratorium on industrial hemp cultivation. With the moratorium to sunset April 30, 2020, the Board of Supervisors directed Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures to develop a local ordinance regulating the cultivation of industrial hemp as an agricultural crop.

The Board of Supervisors adopted the ordinance on February 4, 2020 and it is set to go into effect on April 30, 2020. The ordinance establishes the registration program for industrial hemp cultivation and includes zoning restrictions on industrial hemp cultivation, enforcement provisions to prevent masked illegal cannabis cultivation, and measures to ensure crop compatibility by managing pollen dispersal.

The ordinance allows industrial hemp cultivation anywhere in the county where agricultural uses are  allowed except Rural Residential (RR) zoning (i.e., Agriculture and Residential (AR), Land Intensive Agriculture (LEA), Land Extensive Agriculture (LEA), Diverse Agriculture (DA), Resources and Rural Development (RRD), Commercial Rural (CR), Agricultural Services (AS), Industrial Park (MP), Limited Urban Industrial (M1), Heavy Industrial (M2), and Limited Rural Industrial (M3) zoning districts). The County has included best management practices relating to setbacks, tree removal, agricultural grading and drainage, and pollen management in the ordinance to establish good farming practices for hemp cultivation. Some best management practices apply only to specified zoning districts.  For example, mandatory setbacks of 600 feet from occupied structures and 200 feet from all property lines, which could be waived with neighbor consent, apply only to industrial hemp cultivation in Agricultural and Residential (AR) zoning. The ordinance also allows for cultivation in Resources and Rural Development (RRD) zoning so long as there is no tree removal or grading.

Any structure used for cultivation and incidental activities (harvesting, drying, curing, grading, trimming, wholesale packaging, and similar preparation of industrial hemp) must comply with all applicable County building and other codes.  The requirement that existing barns and other structures be code-compliant has been an impediment to cannabis cultivation in the County and will likely be problematic for industrial hemp as well.

The ordinance changes the definition of agricultural processing to allow for extraction of oil from industrial hemp grown on site or in the local area with a Conditional Use Permit in the agricultural zones where industrial hemp cultivation is permitted.

City of Santa Rosa

The City of Santa Rosa Cannabis Subcommittee considered options for regulating industrial hemp within the city limits on January 30, 2020. After hearing presentations from the County and from City staff, the subcommittee motioned to treat industrial hemp like other agricultural commodities with minimal regulation imposed through zoning interpretation and limitations. The subcommittee rejected staff’s recommendation to treat cultivators, processors, and manufacturers different from retail operators, and chose to maintain consistency in the treatment of industrial hemp as an agricultural product throughout the supply chain. The subcommittee expressed concern that customers may not be able to easily distinguish between a cannabis retailer and industrial hemp retailer and requested additional information from staff relating to options for regulating the hemp retailers’ signage.

If you would like to learn more about industrial hemp, please contact Elizabeth Lance.

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