San Benito County approves hemp changes

Repeals moratorium on operations

San Benito County supervisors’ approval of a modified hemp ordinance Feb. 4 lifts a two-month moratorium on hemp operations in unincorporated areas of the county.

The modified ordinance increases the setback requirements from 100 feet to 1,000 feet away from residential property boundaries, while also requiring a 500-foot setback from public roads.

Operators could reduce the setback to 100 feet if they install a six-foot-tall fence along the road.

Cultivation operations are now prohibited within a mile of wineries, restaurants, hotels or other hospitality sites, as well as the “sphere of influence” boundaries of the cities of Hollister and San Juan Bautista.

An ad hoc committee consisting of supervisors Anthony Botelho and Peter Hernandez, as well as representatives of the San Benito County Farm Bureau, wine and hemp industries, and impacted residents met twice in January to discuss the changes. The committee was “widely positive” in support of the modifications, according to Assistant County Counsel Joel Ellinwood.

Hemp production is on the radar of county officials after they received a number of complaints about smell, crime and traffic following the end of the first growing season late in 2019.

Eden Rift Vineyards and DeRose Winery, located on Cienega Road near a hemp operation, both reported an uptick of thefts and trespassing on their properties since the county’s original ordinance went into effect in October, as well as an overwhelming smell of drying hemp in their tasting rooms.

The supervisors had enacted a 45-day moratorium on hemp operations Dec. 10 to give the county time to revise its ordinance. That moratorium was extended for another 10 months on Jan. 14, but now will be lifted within 30 days of the supervisors’ approval of the modified ordinance.

Hemp fiber is noted for its strength and durability, and is used for products such as apparel and rope. Although hemp is a strain of cannabis, it has considerably less THC, the compound that produces psychoactive effects when consumed.

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