An ordinance regulating the cultivation of hemp — the nonpsychoactive cousin of cannabis — in Santa Barbara County is scheduled to be introduced at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, giving area farmers a long-awaited avenue to grow the “new” agricultural product.

If approved as submitted, the ordinance will return to the board for a second reading and final adoption, likely at the Feb. 2 meeting.

Currently in Santa Barbara County, only colleges and universities can grow hemp for research, but the ordinance would provide farmers an opportunity to cultivate another crop, as it becomes increasingly difficult for commercial agriculture to be profitable.

Under the ordinance, farmers would have to obtain an annual license from the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and register each year with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

One of the goals of the ordinance is to assure that farmers aren’t growing cannabis under the guise of hemp, thus bypassing the much more complex and stringent state laws and county regulations governing cannabis cultivation.

Supervisors could further restrict hemp cultivation by putting a cap on the number of acres allowed, as they did with cannabis, limiting the number of hemp licenses available or both.

To qualify as hemp under federal law, the plants must contain no more than 0.3% of delta-9 THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.

The ordinance would allow personnel from the County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and Sheriff’s Office to inspect and sample a crop at any time during normal business hours with no advance notice to assure it’s complying with that THC limit.

Growers would be required to cover the ag commissioner’s costs of administering the licenses, sampling the crop and witnessing a crop’s destruction or actually destroying it if it fails to comply with THC limits or other applicable state and federal laws.

License holders would not only pay for the cost of sampling their crops and preparing for the THC tests but would also be charged for mileage, direct and indirect labor costs, and materials associated with that process.

Upon the issuance of a hemp license, the grower would have to post a $2,800 bond to assure that destroying a crop and related expenses are covered, and if any associated costs exceed the amount of the bond, the grower will be billed for the difference.

Hemp has been cultivated for thousands of years, with its seeds used for food and lamp oil and its fibers turned into textiles, paper and rope, but it’s become a “new” crop after being illegal for decades.

American farmers were actually required by law to grow it in the 1700s, according to the Ministry of Hemp website, and even George Washington grew it on his estate.

But in the United States, it was guilty by association with its potent cousin, marijuana, and became a forbidden Schedule 1 drug in 1970.

Although in 2014 universities were allowed to conduct research into hemp cultivation, it wasn’t until 2018 that hemp became a federally legal crop after Congress passed that year’s Farm Bill and directed states to begin preparing regulatory programs.

California’s Industrial Hemp Farming Act authorizing cultivation of industrial hemp was signed into law Jan. 1, 2017, but state law doesn’t regulate manufacturing, processing or selling hemp or hemp products.

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