Humboldt County: this corner of California, once famed for its majestic redwood trees has, over time, become famous for something else – their massive cannabis plantations.
Considered by many as a stoner’s paradise, Humboldt County has evolved into a farming community that is now home to more than 30,000 people, most of whom are cannabis growers or local residents. However, a majority of them are involved in cannabis growing, making it a weed haven in California known for some of the best pot in the world.
Humboldt County started to become popular as a stoner’s paradise back in the 60’s and 70’s, when hippies were involved in the “back-to-the-land” movement. During this time, they were migrating out of big cities and into bucolic areas where they could grow their own food, build their homes, and live off the land. It just so happens that many hippies ended up migrating to Northern California, where land was plentiful and affordable. They also found that the land was conducive to growing pot.
Though they initially started growing cannabis for personal consumption, the US government eventually sponsored a crop-spraying initiative in Mexico for cannabis which caused Americans to end up seeking out a new supplier. What happened was the hippies residing in Humboldt County started selling their own pot in a larger scale, which marked the beginnings of this town as we know it.
So why are they banning hemp cultivation?
In mid-February 2021, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously voted that hemp should be permanently banned. They argue that the presence of hemp causes male pollen to cannabis plants possessing higher THC levels. According to Ross Gordon, the Humboldt County Grower’s Alliance policy director, there are “many risks that industrial hemp poses to the cannabis industry here.”
Gordon goes on to tell the Times-Standard that the vote result is “the outcome of over two years of discussion and public process.”
“To begin with, the moratorium that was passed in 2018 was continued in 2019 with several town halls and community discussions… at which many cannabis farmers attended and explained the many risks that industrial hemp poses to the cannabis industry here… We have a world-renowned cannabis industry. We have the highest density of cannabis farms of anywhere in North America and perhaps the world. Protecting that industry should be our top priority,” Gordon tells the Times-Standard.
While there are many that support the ban, several fervently oppose it. “Tragically, businesses that have started here that make hemp-derived products are moving to Oregon and other places because they can’t function or operate here,” said Benjamin Franklin Grant. “We’re losing money in multiple ways and robbing our community members of the opportunity to create jobs and make money for themselves,” he argues.
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson suggested that they could create exemptions for nonprofits or research groups, adding that “if we don’t do the ban in its current context we really run into the possibility of just zero regulation.”
“Nonetheless, it seems like the conversation of a special permit does open up something of an avenue for ‘special permits’ meaning regulated fee oriented… I think that there might be a pathway started here. We’re not going to deliberate on it too much today but I just feel like there’s something there,” says Wilson.
On the other hand, Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone said that people could grow CBD using a special permit for personal use. “I think we’ve come up with a reasonably good compromise. It’s not a ban, it’s a ban on industrial hemp,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sunboldt Grown Farms owner Sunshine Johnston thinks that the new rules would cause them to “just go from one prohibition to another,” explaining that high CBD products that are low in THC are usually labeled as industrial hemp. “We could be a premier growing region for medicinal CBD and there’s a lot of people that desire that medicine,” said Johnston.
The Risk of Cross-Pollination
Robert Clarke and Mojave Richmond, two cannabis experts, believe that industrial hemp cultivation shouldn’t be done beside cannabis production seeking to grow high THC plants. This is because they pose a risk of cross-pollination. The solution would be to give a 10-mile radius of separating the plants. “Safe distances should be increased to up to 30 miles or more if the pollen source is a broadacre grain seed field or if seedless crops are established down wind of seeded crops,” they write in Hemp Grower.
There is truth to this: pollen WILL travel when hemp is grown outside then the male plants are left to release it. The pollen has the capability of traveling even hundreds of miles, so if it reaches female cannabis plants then there are serious problems. Because hemp and cannabis are not the same plants technically speaking (they’re more of cousins than siblings), cross-pollination can result in the absence of the sticky buds that cannabis consumers love.
Anndrea Hermann, an internationally renowned hemp expert, says that “marijuana and industrial hemp don’t belong in cultivation together,” because “there’s a risk for marijuana growers when industrial hemp is grown with male plants present.”
So it’s certainly understandable why cannabis farmers want to protect their grow, their product, and their livelihood.
What do you think about the ban?
WHY IS CROSS POLLINATION A PROBLEM, READ MORE…