The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt a countywide moratorium on commercial hemp cultivation during a public hearing Tuesday.

Hemp cultivation “constitutes a public nuisance and violations may be enforced and abated in the same manner as prohibited cannabis cultivation is enforced,” under the newly adopted ordinance.

Industrial hemp legislation was passed statewide in California in October.

Should they be adopted by any county, those regulations require agriculture commissioners to register growers at a cost of $900 dollars, 15 percent of which would be allocated to the county, with the rest sent to the state.

The activity was also decriminalized at the federal level in December with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

The temporary prohibition in Calaveras County was recommended “at least until a cannabis regulatory ordinance is fully in place and acreage and zoning restrictions for cannabis cultivation are agreed upon,” according to the item summary.

In the meeting, Agriculture Commissioner Kevin Wright detailed his concerns with the current state program, with reference to lax regulations that could allow individuals to grow cannabis under the guise of hemp, difficulties for Sheriff’s Office personnel to enforce the cannabis ban and federal oversight that may eventually change state laws.

“I am not against industrial hemp, I am against a premature program,” Wright told the board. “Many people are under the impression that hemp is easily recognized as something different than cannabis, but the only difference is that hemp (contains less than 0.3) percent THC. I believe a moratorium on hemp is necessary so the sheriff can focus on enforcement of the current ban.”

State laws do not require a state license, background check, limit on acreage, restriction on land alterations or any oversight from the water board, Wright said.

Another aspect that established regulations don’t address is the inevitability of a hemp crop to pollinate a marijuana crop, and thereby decrease its value, Wright said. Should an ordinance be passed to legalize marijuana cultivation in Calaveras County in the near future, cannabis growers could be impacted by a loss of quality in their products, Wright said.

Elaborating on that point, District 5 Supervisor Ben Stopper said that studies from Colorado, Oregon and Washington found that hemp pollination was traveling tens to hundreds of miles from grow sites.

District 5 resident Beth Wittke voiced that rather than banning hemp, the board should take the opportunity to let banned commercial cannabis growers “get a CBD crop in.”

“We don’t need bans, we need regulations,” Wittke said. “THC has medical benefit. CBD has medical benefit. It is all cannabis. It’s good for the environment and economy when grown properly.”

Other formerly registered growers pointed out that hemp will likely decrease in value by the time the board would be able to implement regulations into a future cannabis ordinance.

Supervisors discussed the idea of establishing a focus group to develop county regulations on hemp in a “timely manner,” but directed no action to perform such a task.

Other business

Earlier in the meeting, supervisors adopted a proclamation to recognize March 2019 as American Red Cross Month in Calaveras County.

Red Cross volunteers “have provided Calaveras County residents with assistance and aid, whether at the emergency shelters, during relocation of individual victims of structure fire or flood, or at the Incident Command Base Stations supporting local responders,” the proclamation print-out states.

“Without your support and the citizens of the community, we would not be able to do what we do,” said Dennis Lewis, one of four Red Cross Disaster Services instructors in Calaveras County.

Another local Red Cross volunteer, Marti Crane shared an email sent from Division Disaster Executive Denise Everhart detailing the experiences of Red Cross workers assisting families during the Camp Fire, the “deadliest and most destructive” wildfire in California history to date, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Crane encouraged homeowners to put a go-bag together in preparation for emergencies.

Supervisors also received a presentation on economic development activities for the first two quarters of fiscal year 2018-2019 from Economic Development Director Kathy Gallino.

In addition to various other actions, Gallino prioritized attracting and retaining the “right businesses (in) the right locations,” developing a skilled workforce and providing affordable housing as key factors to economic development.

Gallino said she has been assisting local businesses in navigating permitting processes and establishing visions for their enterprises, 39 of which are new, 19 existing and 10 expanding.

Additionally, the board approved the 2019 Public Works Capital Improvement Program, a five-year investment of $77 million in roads and infrastructure.

The few people that spoke in public comment were in favor of the plan, expressing appreciation of the department’s recent road repairs after storm damage across the county.

Supervisors also voted to acquire property in the amount of $2,600 for a permanent right-of-way easement and three temporary construction easements between Calaveras County and Sierra Pacific Industries for replacing the existing bridge at Schaad Road over Forest Creek in unincorporated northeastern Calaveras County.

Additionally, Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc., was awarded a nearly $6,700 contract for a monitoring and treatment plan and archaeological monitoring during construction of the Railroad Flat Road Bridge over Esperanza Creek Project by authorization of the board.

Supervisors tapped into the Roads and Bridges Division budget to authorize a backhoe loader purchase for Public Works at a cost of almost $108,000 for road repair and maintenance activities.

The department is developing a “comprehensive fleet management plan to replace obsolete equipment as well as identifying shortages in current equipment inventory.”

The board also authorized the County Administrative Officer to sign a 5-year internet service agreement with Utility Telephone Inc. for a total of $203,100 to purchase two 250-megabit service lines to run to the government center.

Stanley Moore with the information technology division of the county administrative office said he anticipates that the government center’s current bandwidth (150 megabits) will no longer “meet our needs going forward,” and “we simply cannot be in a position where we would lose our services.”

During closed session, the board discussed “public employee appointment” of a new CAO. An offer has been extended, Board Clerk Diane Severud announced at the meeting. If accepted, the board will bring a resolution forward to appoint the applicant once a background check has been completed.

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Reporter

Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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