Supervisors split on hemp moratorium

Motion to temporarily halt plans for industrial cultivation fails. Board will revisit the issue April 16.

With too few votes to pass a temporary moratorium on the cultivation of industrial hemp, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors agendized the item for a future meeting.

The 45-day moratorium needed four votes to pass, but only received support from Supervisors Peter Hernandez, Jaime De La Cruz and Jim Gillio. Supervisors Anthony Botelho and Mark Medina voted no. Had the moratorium been approved, it would have expired on May 17.

During the April 2 meeting, county counsel Sarah Dickinson said the moratorium would “temporarily keep the status quo and not allow cultivation of industrial hemp for both commercial growers as well as research.” She added that San Benito County anticipated state regulations to take effect on April 2 or 3, but the California Department of Food and Agriculture reposted regulations after comments from the Office of Administrative Law for a 15-day period that expires on April 14.

“We don’t have at this point an idea when those regulations might take effect,” Dickinson said.

De La Cruz and Gillio supported the moratorium in order to give staff enough time to draft an ordinance so the county could recover costs and deal with issues including code enforcement and odor. Hernandez said his support was focused on potential illegal activity.

“Those that would use the legal means illegally or through a side avenue, that always has to be a consideration,” Hernandez said. “The illegal is the obvious. Those that try to use legal means to do illegal things aren’t that obvious and there has to be a lot more due diligence.”

Botelho, a member of the hemp ad hoc committee alongside Hernandez, said he opposed the moratorium because those who want to grow hemp illegally will do so with or without the restriction.

Botelho said other reasons for his opposition were that he didn’t want to “dilute” the right to farm, and said that people in agriculture do well regulating themselves.

“If there is an issue or a problem we can deal with it. This is an annual crop,” he said. “I don’t think there will be a mad rush to put 10,000 acres is San Benito County because it will be grown statewide, it will be grown nationwide.”

Botelho also said that if San Benito County placed a moratorium on hemp, it would prevent farmers from cultivating the crop this year because it would be too late in the season to start. According to Pinnacle Strategy President Victor Gomez, plants must be “in the ground” by mid-June to July 1.

Board Chair Medina said he would support the moratorium only if an ordinance was ready by May 7, but county planner Taven Kinison Brown and county counsel Barbara Thompson said meeting that deadline wasn’t possible because the process involves the San Benito County Planning Commission, noticing periods and environmental documents.

“Assuming that you can get the Planning Commission to hold a special meeting on April 24 or May 1, we can potentially try for the second meeting in May,” Thompson said.

Elia Salinas, a county resident and the director of community relations for local medical cannabis company AgriPharma Extraction LLC, said the moratorium was not necessary since farmers cannot cultivate without a state permit. She also said there is no black market for hemp, so enforcement should focus on cannabis.

Hemp cultivation for industrial use is not allowed until state regulations are in place. In addition, State Senate Bill 1409 requires farmers to register with their county’s agriculture commission before cultivation. It also requires farmers to purchase seeds from an approved breeder list.

The moratorium issue will return before supervisors at their April 16 meeting and include a presentation by San Benito County Agricultural Commissioner Karen Overstreet.

Other related BenitoLink articles:

Federal Farm Bill legalizes industrial hemp farming

San Benito County adopts cannabis ordinance for unincorporated areas

San Benito County partners with HdL Companies to design cannabis ordinance

San Juan Bautista City Council holds first reading of cannabis ordinance

Supes send cannabis businesses ordinance back to committee for modifications

Former councilman guides supervisors through cannabis maze


Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.