Southern Utah News Articles
Top Stories for February 6, 2020
Hemp and cannabis land use issues light up commission meeting
The Kane County Board of Commissioners met on Tuesday, January 28, at 10 a.m. at the Kane County Courthouse. Commissioner Brent Chamberlain was not in attendance.
The meeting opened with a request from the Planning and Zoning Committee to table Ordinance O-2020-4, a zone change application on behalf of Mineral Springs Property, LLC, until the meeting on February 28, due to the committee having received new information on the application. The floor was then opened to public comments.
Carol Howard, who lives on Mineral Springs Road, spoke against the zone change outlined in the tabled ordinance, concerned that it will lead to tax increases, compromise the agriculture heritage of the land, and increase traffic on the nearby road, further depreciating it and threatening wildlife. She suggested the school land going up for auction would be a better location for the proposed glamping site.
Rochelle Bettencort, Johnson Canyon, commented on the industrial hemp and medical cannabis land use Ordinance 2020-2. The Farm Bureau has proposed increasing the THC limit for industrial hemp from 0.3 percent to one percent. Bettencort is concerned the regulations on hemp growers will become increasingly relaxed to the detriment of neighboring residents.
Scott Buckner hoped the commission would effectively ban hemp and cannabis as Garfield County has. He said the Utah state legislature is currently considering changes to the medical marijuana law that would weaken it, and failure to regulate will lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Ralph Morrison’s opposition to the growing of industrial hemp, is that it is detrimental to law enforcement and that the market is saturated and in decline. He is concerned that once cannabis is “through the door,” it will be increasingly deregulated.
The commission approved the check edit report and minutes for the January 14 meeting before entering into regular session.
The commission entered public hearing on the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). Resource Planner Adé Nelson explained that part of the process for getting CDBG funding, which serves moderate to low income areas and community investments, is opening up the process to community voices. Tom Dillon suggested applying for CDBG funding to enhance pedestrian pathways in residential areas like the Ranchos.
Kane County Attorney Rob Van Dyke reviewed the changes proposed in Ordinance O-2020-2: an existing ordinance created a 10-mile exemption zone between medical cannabis crops and community locations, which the proposed ordinance would change to 12.5 miles. No ordinances were in place for industrial hemp, which are defined under the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act as containing less than 0.3 percent THC.
The proposed ordinance would make it conditional use in agricultural zones. Van Dyke clarified Garfield County’s ordinance, which banned medical cannabis over 0.3 percent THC, as well as the use of cannabis for non-medicinal purposes (including industrial uses).
Van Dyke described the ordinance as an attempt to ban medical marijuana, despite such bans not being permitted under state law.
The commission had postponed voting on the ordinance during the previous meeting in order to gather information from the Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau, and the Sheriff’s Office. Representatives of each institution were in attendance this week and reported their findings to the commission.
Cody James, manager of the Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp and Medical Cannabis Programs, spoke first. James stated there were 252 licensed growers in Utah in 2019. Over the year, the department took over 737 crop samples for testing, of which 76 came back in excess of the 0.3 percent THC limit. Of those, only one sample was in excess of 1 percent, and law enforcement was brought in. All hot crops were destroyed per policy.
James said the process for receiving a license to grow hemp requires a background check showing no felonies or drug-related misdemeanors, and signing a waiver allowing the Department of Agriculture and local law enforcement on the property at any time.
In response to questions from Attorney Van Dyke, James said policy will soon change to extend background check requirements to all employees in addition to the licensee, and a grower refusal to allow a search after signing the consent form, would lead to the revocation of the grower’s license and the destruction of the crops.
After licensure, the grower must provide pre- and post-planting reports, detailing specifics including the origins of their seeds and the number of plants. Samples must be tested at a state lab prior to harvest, and any plants exceeding the 0.3 percent THC limit must be destroyed.
In response to questions from Commissioners Lamont Smith and Andy Gant, James explained that stress can sometimes cause the crops to “go hot,” but THC levels above one percent are not typical of industrial hemp strains and would lead to immediate loss of license. In order to transport the harvested crop, the grower must acquire a permit.
Sheriff Tracy Glover asked about the department’s ability to regulate hemp production as the industry grows. James replied that the hemp and medical cannabis program is self-funded through licensing and other fees.
Brett Behling, Southern Regional Manager and Ag Business Development Program Coordinator for the Utah Farm Bureau spoke next. Behling said the Utah Farm Bureau does not currently have a policy on hemp, but recent polling shows interest in growing hemp in every county in the state. This interest is primarily in industrial hemp, as opposed to medical cannabis. He said there are challenges facing hemp growers, including a processing bottleneck and the uncertain profitability of the crop, but contended it is a potential cash crop, and the premature passage of restrictive ordinances would send operations out of state.
Sheriff Glover reported he made calls to other sheriff’s departments in the area, including Utah Highway Patrol, and heard a range of concerns, but few actual cases of hemp-related incidents. He cited a case where a load of hemp was mistaken for marijuana and detained. He suggested the outward similarities between the two plants could become a liability, although officers will be trained to request and recognize appropriate documentation.
There were few or no issues with the farmers or the farms, but the “biggest issue is the potential for confusion during transport,” said the sheriff. His personal concern is that hesitance among law enforcement to identify marijuana could lead to its proliferation across the board.
Commissioner Gant said concerns about the profitability of hemp would not affect the commission’s decision, as the issue at hand was one of zoning. He emphasized the importance of taking the needs of both farmers and other residents into account in order to implement a policy that met the needs of everybody in the county. He suggested approaching the matter with “an over abundance of caution” due to the number of uncertainties, and implementing a more restrictive ordinance that could be reined back as more information presents itself through periodic reports from the sheriff.
He then addressed the medical marijuana statute as is, with a 12.5 mile buffer between farms and community locations, and implementing a likewise restriction for hemp.
Gant said the regulation was “over-restrictive,” he emphasized the importance of reaching a decision that day in order to allow farmers to begin planting, and stated the commission would form a task force to revisit the ordinance. Commissioner Smith agreed that the ordinance was a work in progress and voted in favor. The motion passed.
The commission entered into public hearing for the appointment of Micah Young and Joe Decker to the Kane County Tourism Tax Advisory Board. There was no public comment, and the commission approved the appointments.
The commission approved changes to the compensatory time policy for Volunteer and Events Center employees, extending the 160 hour allowance to all non-exempt Office of Tourism employees and changing the requirement that employees spend at least 40 hours of compensatory time during the off season to a suggestion.
A proposal to increase the size of the Church Wells Special Service District Board from three members to five was approved.
The previous meeting’s discussion on the need to revise the cell phone allowance policy for county employees continued. Because the proposed change ultimately decided upon by the commission would make cell phone allowances part of the compensatory package for certain public officials instead of the current reimbursement policy, it will require a public hearing to go into effect.