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The Colusa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved an ordinance that will allow a limited amount of industrial hemp cultivation and processing as an agricultural crop. 

Now that the federal government has removed marijuana’s less potent cousin from its list of prohibited Schedule 1 drugs, the county plans to approve up to 20 licenses for growers and no more than 3,000 total acres in the county in any calendar year.

Hemp is a type of Cannabis sativa L plant that has no more that 3 percent THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes one high. 

Colusa County took applications through Jan. 21. The ordinance goes into effect in mid February. 

The ordinance allows industrial hemp cultivation in the same location and under the same conditions as other agricultural processes zoned foothill agriculture or exclusive agriculture. 

Growers will have to have a license and an odor management plan to operate and meet state requirements, said Community Services Director Greg Plucker. 

Hemp cultivation will also have to be on properties that are a minimum of 1.5 miles from residential areas throughout the county in order to ensure that industrial hemp plants do not cross-pollinate with cannabis growing operations that may be allowed in Colusa and Williams and to prevent possible odors from impacting nearby residents. 

The board also approved a setback provision that would require a separation from an industrial hemp cultivation field and an off-site residence, based on the size of the cultivation operation. 

“A small, 10-acre boutique grow, for example, would typically have less impacts than a 100-acre grow in terms of potential smell, field operations, and traffic,” Plucker said. “It should be noted that potential odor impacts would be highly variable and dependent upon the variety of industrial hemp being grown. 

Growers will be required to have a 500-foot setback for operations less than 10 acres, a 750-foot setback for grows 10 to 20 acres, and a 1,000-foot setback for grows 20 acres or more. 

The ordinance also requires clear signage that the crop is hemp, as required by state law, and not marijuana, so as not to invite theft by a criminal element. 

Supervisor Gary Evans said that some farmers do have concern about the hemp/cannabis industry in that they may face eventual requirements to protect “high value crops” from their own farming operations (drift) by requiring farmers to carry additional/more costly insurance.  

“They are concerned that their existing insurance may not cover the value of that crop if they get rid of or destroy five acres of hemp. So, this would impact them by (requiring) them to buy additional insurance,” Evans said. 

Evans said hemp production shouldn’t cost neighboring farms more money just because of the crop someone else chooses to put in. 

Agriculture Commissioner Greg Hinton said that while the hemp industry is new, the county is working to ensure protections for those commodities.   

Hinton said the ordinance is a template and that the county can make adjustments to it in the future. Hemp does also not qualify as a “right to farm” commodity until its third year, Hinton said. 

Now that the application window has closed, the Community Development and Agriculture department will review the applications to determine if they meet the requirements for licenses. 

If the number of applications or acreage exceeds the limit, then a rationing solution will be developed. If not, the county could potentially open a second application window for additional licenses, Plucker said.

Plucker said he plans to come back to the board next November with an update following the first hemp harvest, which will give the county an opportunity to revisit any issues that  may arise as a result of the ordinance. ■