By Geoffrey Taylor, MA
In the world of medical and recreational cannabis, Kern County has a history of being unfriendly territory for this niche horticultural industry. Voters have rejected medical cannabis measures in the last two elections and the idea of a robust cannabis economy taking shape in Kern County seems years away.
For some in the cannabis industry, hemp was a natural shift toward legality without leaving the region. For others, hemp was a new and exciting crop to explore that differs greatly from the conventional crops in Kern County.
However, the City of Arvin has played a progressive role in Kern County by being one of two municipalities to create a pathway for legal cannabis business operations, thereby providing a template for other San Joaquin Valley communities to spur greater economic development through this burgeoning industry. Towns across the valley such as Woodlake, Farmersville, Merced and Modesto are a few other examples of municipalities that have followed suit in allowing for state and locally licensed cannabis business operations.
Arvin just went a step further to address the burgeoning industrial hemp industry and roll out the red carpet for ethical operators to grow within the city. Most recently, Arvin has taken their progressive cannabis policies even further with a new Industrial Hemp ordinance intended to spur further economic development and provide other municipalities with a template for monetizing from the rapidly growing Industrial Hemp industry.
“I think it is important to note the process we used to develop our hemp ordinance,” said Jerry Breckenridge, City Manager for the City of Arvin, “Unlike most communities that create ordinances in a vacuum, we actually reached out to the hemp industry for their input. We wanted to make sure we created an ordinance that met the needs of the industry, but also recognized the best interests of the City.”
This means placing an emphasis on hemp research and development, using the city as a laboratory for hemp growers, processors and researchers to build a robust infrastructure around the many possibilities behind the plant.
“After the research we conducted, I am pleased to see that hemp is not just about CBD oil; there are so many beneficial uses for the product from industrial to environmental,” said Breckenridge, “I am just glad that Arvin will be instrumental in providing an environment where the hemp industry can flourish, research, and educate.”
As the city takes an optimistic approach to creating its own hemp infrastructure that is complimentary to its cannabis infrastructure, Arvin stands to benefit greatly from creating a robust regulatory framework for hemp growers, processors, manufacturers and researchers to adhere to strict compliance guidelines.
“This hemp ordinance is an opportunity for economic development within the City. We are very excited to welcome the hemp industry into Arvin and have been working with the industry for two years to develop an ordinance that meets the needs of the community and the industry,” said Pawan Gill, Director of Administrative Services for the City of Arvin, “While the City is already primarily agricultural, we already have interest for setting up facilities to process and manufacture hemp derived products within the City and this has potential of creating new revenue streams as well as creating jobs within the City.”
Utilizing the vast opportunities in growing, harvesting, processing and manufacturing of hemp-derived products, the City of Arvin is striving to become a center for academic studies on hemp. Gill noted: “We also have the potential to make Arvin the research hub for agricultural hemp and we are excited at the prospect of bridging business and education to expand educational and workforce development opportunities within the City.”
With this focus on developing the community into a hemp research hub, Gill notes that “the ordinance prohibits the cultivation or manufacturing of hemp and/or hemp products without first receiving a city issued permit or entering into a development agreement with the City.” Gill continues by stating that “[the ordinance] puts in place regulations to provide clarity and encourage research and development projects and collaborations with both private corporations and public educational institutions, and also establishes regulations to govern the destruction of hemp being cultivated by research and development project such as an Established Agricultural Research Institution,” often known as an EARI or EARI affiliate.
When the County of Kern and Kern County Sheriff’s Department bulldozed more than 450 acres of permitted EARI research hemp in October 2019, their actions against the permitted research grower left many other local growers nervous and seeking refuge from the possibility of being raided for having a “hot” crop, or a crop that exceeds the 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) percentage. Arvin has developed a robust response to similar issues within their own ordinance.
“The major differentiating factor between the County’s ordinance and the City’s is that the County’s ordinance limits hemp cultivation for researchers to 1 acre per permit holder [while] Arvin’s hemp ordinance was developed with feedback from stakeholders including representatives from the hemp industry, hemp researchers and community members,” says Gill, “Our intent is to encourage research and development projects and collaborations with both private corporations and public educational institutions. We are welcoming the industry with open arms.”
In addition to this, Gill noted that many Arvin hemp farmers have reported crop yields in excess of ten times the national average and that because hemp crops often require few pesticides and use little water, they bring specific environmental benefits to reducing pollution, runoff and waste in comparison to other more water and chemical-reliant crops.
Gill ended by saying, “This ordinance is a big step for us. We are excited at the opportunity to attract a new industry, support scientific research, and grow employment and educational opportunities within our City.”