MARTINEZ (BCN/CBS SF) – The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday lifted its moratorium on industrial hemp cultivation and created an ordinance that establishes a permitting process and cultivation standards. The county’s ban on the sale and delivery of electronic smoking devices and cannabis e-liquids will remain in place.
The new hemp ordinance says permits may only be issued for cultivation in an agricultural zoning district located within the boundaries of the East Contra Costa Irrigation District, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District, or the East Contra Costa Groundwater Subbasin, where water levels are stable.
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The ordinance will also establish various requirements and standards for indoor and outdoor cultivation. Land use permits will be good for five years and can be renewed if the permit holder complies with regulations and applies while the permit is still in effect. The renewed permit would last until it’s revoked.
Supervisors rejected arguments from East County residents that hemp cultivation takes more water than other crops on the same land and results in more crime. With the moratorium set to expire Sept. 30, supervisors recognized the need for county regulation.
The ordinance won’t allow cultivation within, or within one mile, of county urban limit lines. The minimum lot size for outdoor cultivation would be 5 acres. Indoor facilities will have to comply with rules regarding other structures. Other conditions of approval will include security plans, shielded lighting, and odor control.
The moratorium was established in November 2020 after people living near a handful of East Contra Costa industrial grow sites complained about odor, lights, and other factors. Supervisors extended the ban twice.
Growing hemp commercially has been legal in Contra Costa County since 2018, when the first five growers were permitted. Hemp has many commercial uses, including food, clothing, medicine, and building materials. Neighbors have said they weren’t warned hemp growers were coming to the area and that growers were violating permitting conditions.
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In a 4-1 vote, the supervisors left in place a ban on vaping and cannabis oil sales, with District 4 supervisor Karen Mitchoff voting no.
Supervisors enacted the ban in 2019, targeting flavored vapes that appealed to children and vaping products that haven’t been reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The ban only applies in unincorporated areas.
In May, the board asked county health officials to come back with information on what’s changed since the ban, including updated safety information on new products and updated state and federal regulations. The answers weren’t enough to change the board’s collective mind.
District 5 supervisor Federal Glover said the vote sends a message to young people “that we’re paying attention.”
“It’s just too early to make decisions based on the unknown and that there’s still an opportunity for research to be done looking at what’s going on at the state and national level,” Glover said.
Staff recommended keeping the ban in place, though they laid out other options, including crafting a new ordinance with varying levels of restrictions. One option would be to allow vaping devices for medical use, for which the current ordinance doesn’t allow.
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