hemp information presentation
Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Fisher gives the Board of Supervisors a report on hemp Tuesday.  (Santa Barbara County photo)

Santa Barbara County is bracing itself for the potential influx of commercial hemp growers, as state and federal agencies loosen their rules.

The county only allows industrial hemp for higher education research purposes right now, but has heard from 77 people interested in growing it commercially, said Cathy Fisher, the Agricultural Commissioner.

Hemp and marijuana are the same cannabis sativa plant, but hemp is categorized as having no more than 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of marijuana, Fisher told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.  

She said hemp was named a Schedule I drug in 1970’s Controlled Substance Act, after being grown for centuries in the United States, and was removed from the controlled substance list in the 2018 Farm Bill.

It’s grown for industrial uses of its fiber, oil and seeds, which can be used for paper, textiles, paint, food and animal feed, biodegradable plastics, and other products.

While it can look different than marijuana plants, many varieties look similar now that more hemp is being grown for CBD (cannabidiol) extraction – a non-psychoactive component concentrated in the plant’s flowers, according to Fisher.  

Supervisor Joan Hartmann said she sees CBD products “advertised in every magazine,” and Fisher said potential local growers do plan to produce plants for CBD extraction.

California used to only allow hemp grown by institutes of higher education, but changing state and federal rules are on the way. 

Santa Barbara County will likely have limited land use control over the industry, and not be able to ban it, County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni said. 

California Senate Bill 153, which is awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature, would align the state hemp program with the federal farm bill, and give local jurisdictions some authority to develop rules of their own, Fisher said.

Some California counties have adopted temporary moratoriums on industrial hemp and others have adopted regulations.

“One thing inhibiting the industry is the lack of manufacturing infrastructure in California,” Fisher said, adding that some growers need to look to Oregon or Colorado for processing and buyers.

There are 10 growers on 21 sites working with Allan Hancock College’s industrial hemp research program in the North County, the only local hemp growers, Fisher said. Six of the 10 growers have disclosed their acreage, totaling 266 acres, she said.

Supervisors were cautiously optimistic, with concerns about nuisance issues, like odor, that the cannabis industry has caused in the county. 

“Industrial hemp does have an odor but it’s not as pungent as marijuana,” Fisher said.

Hemp plants look enough like marijuana that one farmer has reported people stealing plants off the property, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said.

“It’s going to be a big bummer when they find out it’s hemp,” he said.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.