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Planning Commission to consider industrial hemp zoning
Hemp has generally been used to describe non-intoxicating cannabis that’s harvested for the use of its derived products (Photo contributed).

As the City of Turlock works behind the scenes to get its four retail cannabis dispensaries opened and operating, it’s also looking to cash in on another form of the crop — hemp.

The Planning Commission will decide during their meeting on Thursday whether or not to amend the City’s Zoning Code to allow for a City Hemp Program, which would permit industrial hemp manufacturing businesses to operate in approved areas. While hemp was excluded from the City’s regulation of cannabis businesses, one industrial hemp manufacturer who applied to be a part of the Pilot Cannabis Program — approved by the City Council in June 2019 — helped staff realize the potential for more revenue and new jobs in Turlock.

“Getting that one response triggered that there was potentially an interest in looking into hemp,” Turlock Deputy Director of Development Services Katie Quintero said.

Over the years, a few key legislative pieces have been signed into law that allow for the regulation of hemp. First, SB 566 was signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013 allowing county jurisdictions in California to permit hemp cultivation. Most recently, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, or the Farm Bill, was passed by Congress and signed by the President, exempting hemp from the federal Controlled Substance Act, allowing for state and federal regulation of the plant and permitting the transportation of hemp and hemp derivative products across state lines. In addition, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1409 and provided more regulations on laboratory testing.

Stanislaus County established its own County Hemp Program under SB 566 and now with the passage of the Farm Bill, Turlock is looking to follow suit. In the County’s program, 32 entities registered and were licensed in 2019 accounting for 257 registered acres. Just over half of the neighbors to these operations who were surveyed reported no issues with the nearby hemp sites, while 31 percent reported being negatively affected by odor.

“Hemp and commercial cannabis are different in the way that federal laws look at them,” Quintero said. “They’re similar, but very different.”

Hemp has generally been used to describe non-intoxicating cannabis that’s harvested for the use of its derived products. In the Farm Bill, hemp is defined as a cannabis plant which contains no more than 0.3 percent THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana which makes consumers feel high. In terms of water use, hemp requires 12 to 15 inches of water per each growing season or rainfall equivalent to produce a crop.

While marijuana is typically grown and harvested for recreational use, hemp is harvested to produce a wide variety of products including, but not limited to: industrial products (paper, clothing, building materials and plastic), food products (cooking oil, hemp flour and hemp-seed based products) and medicinal products using cannabidiol, or CBD, which is the second-most prevalent compound found in cannabis but does not make the consumer feel high.

It’s a booming industry, and the City of Turlock sees potential for additional revenue through the payment of license fees and taxes by incoming businesses, as well as a boost to the economy thanks to the creation of additional jobs.

“It will be a different form of revenue from cannabis since there is no public benefit amount these businesses will be paying, but we’re looking to it as another type of job creation and diversification of our economy,” Quintero said.

If the Ordinance Amendment to the City’s Zoning Code is approved by the Planning Commission, it will be part of a broader hemp manufacturing regulatory program which utilizes a tiered approach for different hemp manufacturing operations. All businesses that intend on producing, blending or manufacturing any type of hemp product must obtain a “Type A Industrial Hemp Business” license from the City. This type of license would also apply to hemp manufacturers seeking to mix CBD with oils, lotions, creams and more, but does not permit them to extract CBD on site.

Hemp businesses that wish to both extract CBD on site and use them in products must obtain both a business license and industrial use permit, to be known as a “Type B Industrial Hemp Business” license.

The City Hemp Program will also require that the plants at industrial hemp sites undergo random testing of their THC content, and that businesses take proper measures to control odor and waste. Due to the potential for cross pollination, odor, mixing of cannabis and hemp plants and pest control issues, the Ordinance prohibits industrial hemp cultivation in all zones within the City. Type A industrial hemp businesses will be limited to the heavy commercial/light industrial district, Business Park District and general industrial district. Type B businesses would be allowed to operate in the heavy commercial/light industrial and general industrial district.

According to Quintero, incoming industrial hemp businesses could move into facilities already available or develop their own, depending on the company.

“I think the city will look at it as another industrial use to further add to our various industrial uses in the Westside Industrial Specific Plan,” Quintero said. “We’re trying to make sure we keep our zoning ordinances and uses current with laws and regulations while creating another opportunity for new jobs in the area.”

The Planning Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, where they will also consider a Development Agreement and Conditional Use Permit for the Natural Healing Center dispensary at 3401 W. Monte Vista Ave.

All members of the public can participate and provide public comment via Zoom on the night of the meeting date by entering Meeting ID 83517186838, or via telephone by calling 669-900-6833 and entering the conference ID 835-1718-6838 followed by #.