After the Kern County Sheriff’s Office destroyed 459 acres of hemp plants near Arvin they said was actually $1 billion worth of marijuana, city officials took note.
They got to work writing an ordinance that would allow for the type of activity present on the farmland the Sheriff’s Office raided in October. The ordinance will be presented before the city’s planning commission on Monday and is recommended for approval by the city council the next day.
Thirty days after the second reading of the council’s vote, the ordinance could come into effect. The city says it has already received interest from growers in the hemp industry, including Apothio LLC, the researcher who operated the farmland near Arvin that was raided.
If the planning commission and city council approve the ordinance, Apothio could be back up and running in Kern County even as the company pushes a lawsuit against local officials through the federal court system.
Despite the disruption, the city hopes to profit.
“When the county came in and (raided Apothio), we did look at that as an opportunity,” said Pawan Gill, director of administrative services. “We’re small, we’re out there, we’re not off the 99 and we don’t have a lot of the things that other cities can offer an industry. So hemp is a unique opportunity for us as an economic development tool to really be able to attract an industry.”
Hemp is a non-psychoactive strain of cannabis and is used for a variety of purposes, from biofuel to textiles. Federal regulations allow for the cultivation of hemp if plants contain less than 0.3 percent THC, the substance in marijuana that acts on the brain to get people high.
However, growers say THC levels in industrial hemp can rise and fall as the crop develops, leading some plants to test above the legal limits at early stages of their life cycle before falling below before they’re harvested.
Arvin’s ordinance would allow those classified as hemp researchers to grow hemp that tests above the federal limit.
In its defense against the Sheriff’s Office’s actions, Apothio says it is a licensed researcher working through the RAND Corporation, Cerro Coso Community College in Ridgecrest and the Kern Community College District.
The proposed ordinance specifically carves out a niche for hemp researchers to operate, provided they register with the city.
And even if the plants test higher than allowed under the federal hemp regulations, Arvin City Manager Jerry Breckinridge says the city’s cannabis ordinance would allow the product to be sold marijuana.
“That was the issue in the county. If they had a plant that tested hot, the county does not have a cannabis ordinance,” he said. “There was no mechanism to transfer that plant to the other side.”
Whereas Arvin, which has approved an ordinance for the cultivation of marijuana, does have provisions in its ordinance to convert the product to cannabis.
The city plans to earn revenue from hemp production through development agreements with companies that set up shop in Arvin. The agreements would allow Arvin to earn a percentage off the revenues the companies make through their business.
While the city has yet to see a windfall from its cannabis ordinance, several companies are working their way through the regulatory red tape, and officials hope to see profits relatively soon.
Breckinridge said federal law allows companies to grow hemp within Arvin city limits, but the new ordinance gives the city more control and offers a way for residents to benefit.
“Realistically, anyone can come into our city right now and start growing hemp, and we would have no control over it,” he said. “The city started to look at ways to not only regulate it, but benefit from it.”
The Planning Commission will conduct its meeting via teleconference on Monday. Public comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.