At its Feb. 27 meeting, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed, without discussion, an ordinance declaring a temporary moratorium on the cultivation of industrial hemp. The intricacies of state laws have created a potential cannabis loophole the county hopes to temporarily close until the state can promulgate regulations for industrial hemp.

U.S. law states that the growth of industrial hemp for research purposes is legal if state laws permit it. However, the grower of this product is limited to institutions of higher education or state departments of agriculture. The product must be used for agricultural or academic research.

California law and Proposition 64 exclude industrial hemp from the definition of cannabis. While the plants are very similar, industrial hemp has a much lower percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and a chemical test for THC is the basis for distinguishing them.

In 2017, the state Department of Food and Agriculture established the Industrial Hemp Advisory Board to make recommendations about the cultivation of industrial hemp. This work will not be completed until late 2018, thus industrial hemp would be essentially unregulated until then.

Since industrial hemp is very similar to cannabis, county officials were concerned about the possibility of people growing cannabis under the guise of industrial hemp.

“… [T]he unpermitted permitted cultivation of industrial hemp may pose the same threats to the public health and safety or welfare as the unpermitted cultivation of cannabis,” concluded the staff recommendation to the board.

This ordinance, 449.428, prohibits hemp from being grown in Riverside County for 45 days, but the ordinance can be renewed. The board is waiting for the state recommendations.