Cannabis industries’ dirty loophole, research exempt hemp

October 22, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part one in a series about a loophole in the state and county’s hemp regulations and those taking advantage of the lack of oversight.


The signs say “hemp.” But at multiple grows throughout San Luis Obispo County it is as likely to be marijuana. [Cal Coast Times]

While state and local governments enacted rules to regulate the cannabis industry, they failed to provide any oversight for the cultivation of hemp used for research. That failure has opened the door for cannabis cultivators to operate unchecked under the guise of raising hemp for scientific research.

The only requirement for the nine local growers who report they are growing hemp is to inform the SLO County Agriculture Department of their GPS coordinates. They have a total of 24 research exempt grows. Most listed the research group they are allegedly affiliated with, said Marc Lea, SLO County’s assistant agricultural commissioner.

“It is questionable if any of them are really research,” Lea said. “We are not testing the plants. It is up to county counsel to determine if testing should be done.”

Federal legislation requires state Departments of Agriculture to “ensure that only institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture are used to grow or cultivate industrial hemp” under the research exemption.

California, however, currently has no program in place to test cannabis at research exempt cultivation sites or to determine if they are actually affiliated with a legitimate research organization.

“There is currently no application requirement for established agricultural research institutions,” said Steve Lyle, spokesperson for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “Established agricultural research institutions, as defined in California Food and Agricultural Code (FAC) Section 81000(c), are currently exempt from testing for THC content.”

Several hemp growers and farm laborers contend that many of the research hemp farmers are actually growing marijuana, and then selling the product on the black market, an accusation that Lea said is possible because of the lack of oversight.

Even though marijuana and hemp are members of the cannabis family, they have different levels of THC, the intoxicant in pot, creating vastly different regulations and profit margins. Marijuana sells for four to five times the price of hemp.

And while both marijuana and hemp have distinct and noxious odors, a feature that has caused neighbors to object to large cannabis grows near their homes, marijuana plants are more pungent with a skunk-like smell.

Responding to community outrage over cannabis cultivation issues such as smell, water usage and crime rates, in July, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors enacted a one-year moratorium on the growing of industrial hemp. The moratorium permitted the 17 commercial hemp growers who had successfully registered with the county to grow hemp in 2019 and early 2020, subject to testing to verify that the plants’ THC content falls below or at 0.3 percent.

Three of the research exempt hemp farmers registered their GPS coordinates with the County Department of Agriculture on June 17, the day before the supervisors voted for the moratorium. The moratorium does not impact the research exempt hemp growers.

San Luis Obispo County has strict rules regarding setbacks from roads and limits to the size of pot cultivations. In addition, the county marijuana ordinance prohibits importing water, putting lighting in hoop houses and growing near parks and schools.

These restrictions appear to have led some cultivators to put aside attempts to get permits for their marijuana farms in favor of listing their grows as research exempt hemp sites.

After several marijuana growers received notices of violations for issues at their pot grows, they sent in notices that were instead research exempt hemp grows and now have no oversight or testing requirements.

Part two will focus on the exempt hemp growers and the research organizations they report an affiliation.

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So happy the rest of SLO County gets to enjoy jerk neighbors growing copious amounts of hemp or marijuana thanks to a “loophole” or just plain stupidity on the County’s part.

The County claims it had no idea so much pot was growing in my neighborhood, the Carrizo Plain, despite the LANDSLIDE of water drilling permits the County allowed. Somehow, all of those new wells in Cal Valley escaped them. Thank you Miller Drilling.

And then the County just blew us off. Longtime residents were ignored in favor of non-residents who willfully side-stepped “the system” & County Ordinances, and gave SLO Co. the finger, and then abandoned their garbage and property once they were allowed to HARVEST their illegal pot by the County. And not one dime paid in taxes or fees. Awesome job. And most of the County snickered at the residents of Cal Valley.

Still snickering??

I’ve been watching the “mini Christmas trees” grow, that were planted on the Shetler property next to the Historic Price House out in Price Canyon a few months ago.

Now some hoop houses are being constructed in Price Canyon, across from the new(er) Planned Living Community-slash-Vineyard property near 1000 Hills Rd.

Interesting times, indeed.

Clever graphic!

Boy has this County stepped in it. The stench, the social discourse and the expense to everyone for the benefit of few. The expense cross all consequences and benefit is about money.

“while both marijuana and hemp have distinct and noxious odor”

By definition this is patently false, a matter of opinion, irrelevant to property rights (see Equal Protection Clause of the Bill of Rights & the Federalist Papers), immaterial to public discourse on FARMLAND that stinks by nature, and contradictory to Conservative (not Republican) politics: Promotion of Big Govt.

Maybe the laws aren’t caught up… but which Party has been blocking Drug Policy Reform since 1972?

A poorly run county is to blame. The county administrator is weak, a goal of supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson who like to control the county regardless of the vote. The planning department is a joke with pay-to-play a standard operating procedure.

Republican majority.

Hole E chit! Karen! Great work! Check out my comment in the article about people raiding the “hemp” grow on York Mountain. Thank you for being an actual journalist when they all seem to be opinionists now.