Supervisors plan to allow hemp – what could go wrong?

Supervisors plan to allow hemp – what could go wrong?

Dear Chairman and Members of the Board,

I am writing as a representative of Friends of Graton (FOG). Our neighborhood group organized when a proposed cannabis project threatened the enjoyment and security of the West County Trail.  Our cannabis issue update list has 450 email addresses and continues to expand. In 2019, the Board agreed that the West County Trail was a park. Under the cannabis ordinance at that time, the trail qualified for a 1000’ setback from any cannabis project.

We are alarmed by staff recommendations that hemp setbacks from parks, schools and residences in ag zonings would now be voluntary.  Cannabis and hemp both need the same setbacks.  Hemp is indistinguishable from cannabis without expensive and elaborate testing. Hemp like cannabis poses security issues as a simple Google search for hemp and crime will show.  Intense odor is an issue for both hemp and cannabis. Combined with potential for crime this could lower property values for parcels adjacent to hemp grows, especially as these news stories proliferate.

Even hemp industry publications admit that crime is a problem, and that minimizing this threat is danger to public safety.  However, the proposed Industrial Hemp regulations ignore this reality as page 8 states:  “The application of a 1,000 foot setback was considered in an effort to align with existing codified setbacks, (Table 1) however, it was determined that many of the considerations applied in that circumstance, such as potential for crime and sensitivity around drug treatment centers, were not applicable to industrial hemp.”  This conclusion has been proven false.

Hemp publications and other news stories linking crime and hemp have pointed to exclusionary fencing and security cameras as theft deterrents. Sounds just like cannabis. How will all this additional fencing, unnecessary for most ag crops, affect wildlife movement and foraging? While organizations are encouraging protecting and re-establishing wildlife corridors, this will encourage a patchwork of exclusion zones county-wide.

Please review the Industrial Hemp public comments for the Planning Commission on the Agricultural Commissioner’s website. 80% of letter signers (47) expressed concern about hemp and only 20% (12) signers expressed support of lax regulations. That’s a wide majority of letters from concerned citizens. Yet at that meeting, the Ag Commissioner minimized the importance of public input and dismissed the concerns of residents.

To date, the public has had very little opportunity for input into the hemp considerations. Now with the attempt to exempt this whole process from CEQA, you will be shutting down the voice of country residents: no EIR for cannabis or hemp, no public hearings, and little recourse where Right-to-Farm applies.

FOG recommends: 1) mandatory 1000’ setbacks from hemp to parks, schools, daycare facilities, pre-schools and residences irrespective of zoning and 2) no hemp cultivation in any residential zones.  The reason is because the negative impacts of hemp/cannabis cannot be allayed by relying solely on zoning, size of parcels, or square footage of grow. There are too many variables with adjacent zonings to protect residents. 

Making inadequate setbacks voluntary, as in Best Management Practices (BMPs), wholly ignores the known problems of odors and crime. The resulting complaints will burn up County resources. Setbacks need to be mandatory.  We object to the recommendation that the Ag Commissioner have the power to “adopt, amend or rescind” BMPs. This is a decision that should be open for public comment.

Where is the projected county funding to inspect and test that hemp is not cannabis?  New York State is currently being audited for their inspection processes. The quick adoption of hemp has stretched their resources thin.  We are apparently planning for the Ag Commissioner’s Office to take on all cannabis and hemp regulation while still monitoring VESCO, Weights and Measures, and pesticide permits. THC testing and nuisance complaints related to hemp will place a crippling burden on County resources.

Manufacturing (oil extraction) of hemp belongs in industrial zones. By allowing manufacturing and processing, with the necessary buildings, you are allowing agricultural land to be covered with concrete slabs – permanent and impermeable. If hemp fails as a viable crop, as many predict, those buildings will remain – as cannabis, as wineries? It’s a slippery slope toward the sacrifice of viable ag land.

Hemp processing also can be dangerous, utilizing flammable chemical compounds, and it requires a sterile facility. FOG recommends that processing be centralized in industrial zones and adjacent to major corridors to prevent further degradation of our failing county roads. Treating this new product as if it is the same as known processed ag products such as wine or milk is unwise and risky.

Hemp is highly combustable and a fire danger when at it’s at maturity with tall plants bearing oil-laden buds. The Ag Commissioner dismissed this idea, but why is hemp considered a Class 4 (Flammable Solids) hazardous material? Adequate setbacks from any structures would lessen this threat. Hemp cultivation also needs to be prohibited in high-fire severity zones.

FOG also does not support hemp in the five impaired watersheds because of the high water demand for hemp cultivation which is 4 times that for grapes.

This is a new crop, un-tested in our county and should be treated with caution. If problems don’t develop, re-visit this issue in a year or two. If tighter restrictions are unnecessary, then bring the public into a discussion of how to loosen them.

Thank you for considering my comments on Industrial Hemp.

Anna Ransome for Friends of Graton (FOG)