Following Nearby Destruction of 500-Acre Hemp Crop, Arvin, Calif., Moves to Regulate Industry

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Apothio sued Kern County for allegedly destroying $1 billion worth of its hemp crop. Now, officials within the city of Arvin—located in Kern County—are working to attract Apothio and other hemp businesses.

On April 28, Arvin, Calif., city council voted via teleconference to introduce a hemp ordinance that would provide local jurisdiction over hemp cultivation and manufacturing to the city. Mayor Jose Gurrola made a motion to approve the introduction of the ordinance, and council passed it with a 5-0 vote.

The city’s planning commission read the ordinance on April 27, permitting council to waive its own first reading on April 28. Another reading will take place during the next council meeting on May 12. if approved then, the ordinance would go into effect 30 days later, said Pawan Gill, Arvin director of administrative services, prior to the council meeting.

City officials’ decision to regulate hemp for commercial, educational and scientific purposes follows the alleged government destruction of 500 acres of hemp that Apothio LLC grew near Arvin.

Apothio sued Kern County, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and multiple individuals. Its complaint said it can legally grow crops testing higher than the federal 0.3%-THC limit because it is an established agricultural research institution (EARI).

Arvin’s decision to work with the hemp industry on community development and obtain tax revenue wasn’t initially sparked by the recent destruction, but it was expedited by it, Gill said. “We’ve been talking to the industry for two years,” she said. “This was … a catalyzing moment where we said, ‘Okay, we shouldn’t put this off anymore.’”

During its meeting April 28, council read a letter from Kern County Agricultural Commissioner Glenn Fankhauser, who warned that no hemp plants can enter the state-legal cannabis market and hemp cannot test above 0.3% THC. If growers plan to grow above that limit, they are legally able and should register with the state-legal market.

Arvin City Attorney Shannon Chaffin clarified that any hemp grown in Arvin cannot test above 0.3% THC to remain in accordance with federal law.

Among members of the public who spoke in favor of the hemp ordinance April 28 were many who represent Apothio in some capacity. They included Trent Jones, CEO of Apothio; Joshua Renfro, partner at Apothio; and Jill Board, president of Cerro Coso Community College and executive director of Noah’s Arc Foundation, which earns its sole income from Apothio.

“We thank you for this ordinance,” Jones said to Arvin city officials. “It is a very powerful one, and it’s very effective.”

Arvin is facing fiscal struggles, as well as poor air and water quality and other environmental challenges, Gill told Hemp Grower. Following the passing of the hemp ordinance, which states that all hemp businesses must obtain a city-issued permit or enter into a development agreement with the city, the city and industry would together address some of these issues, she said. Development agreements would vary on a case-by-case basis and could include tax requirements for businesses to help improve public spaces.

At the same time, hemp grows well in the area, she said. This sentiment was echoed by Apothio executives and others during the public hearing.

Bryan Timmerman, managing member of SLOCO Holdings, announced his support for the ordinance during the hearing, announcing his company will be going public in about two months. The real-estate investment trust works with hemp used for fiber, oils and other purposes. It is currently building a campus in Texas in partnership with Texas A&M University and another in Phoenix, but it plans to have its roughly 400,000-square-foot global headquarters in Arvin.

“We have a world-class executive management team—literally some of the top folks from consumer product goods, supply chain and everything,” Timmerman said. “Arvin, without a doubt, can literally be the epicenter for industrial hemp.”

One person who said she disapproves of the ordinance is Monica Franetovich, who identified herself as “a local educator and child advocate” and is also listed on the Arvin Union School District’s website as clerk of the school board. She said she thinks students should have other means to participate in finance, technology, arts and math.

“I prefer that we look at those avenues, as opposed to avenues that cause students to normalize things that perhaps should be used for medicine when they get into cabinets that are at home and use them for other recreational purposes,” Franetovich said. “It makes it a lot easier for them to misuse these things. And it prevents them from the opportunities they could be having. Our students don’t need complacency—they need motivation. Additionally, our local sheriffs are against it, so I hope you take a moment and really think about our students and the impact on our city.”

Gurolla, who became mayor of Arvin at age 23 and The Nation reports took “took on big oil—and won” seemed unfazed by these comments, citing that the Kern County Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t have jurisdiction over the industry in the city if the ordinance passes.

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