Rancher’s foray into hemp ends with plant removal

One Plumas County resident is looking at a $27,000 bill for illegally growing hemp, with expenses for law enforcement’s investigation and costs still mounting.

Eighty to 100 hemp plants have been ordered abated following the second part of a hearing concerning plant identification and whether a grower met terms of Plumas County’s requirements for legally growing hemp.

A civil hearing involving Indian Valley rancher and hemp-grower Harry Rogers began Wednesday, Aug. 8, in the board of supervisors’ chambers in the Plumas County Courthouse.

Hearing officer Lynn Strom gave both Rogers and Plumas County Counsel one week — until Aug. 15 — to prepare and submit briefs concerning their positions on requirements for legally growing hemp, according to Plumas County Sheriff’s Deputy Ed Obayashi, code enforcement officer.

According to Strom, the time would also allow Rogers and his attorney, Samuel C. Williams of Redding, an opportunity to gather necessary evidence to show Rogers has established an agriculture research institution.

And that seemed to be Rogers’ intent as he attempted to submit communications and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to Strom.

During the three-hour hearing, much of which was allotted to Rogers, Strom only accepted one MOU to show Rogers’ attempts to establish his ranch as the required research institution. Strom repeated herself in saying that she “needed something to hang her hat on,” as valid proof.

Lack of enough evidence showing that Rogers met the research requirements, coupled with statements from Plumas County law enforcement saying they cannot tell the difference between marijuana and hemp, assisted Strom’s final decision.

Ordinance hearings

Rogers’ was the fourth and final case heard Aug. 22 by Strom.

Three other ordinance cases —  grows of far more than six legal plants located near Keddie, Quincy and in the Butterfly Valley area were heard.

Marijuana growers all received the required notifications to abate their plants, according to Plumas County Detective Chris Hendrickson. All parties chose to abate their plants and didn’t appear at the hearings.

Initial abatement requirements were presented Aug. 1, with follow-ups conducted Aug. 8. One grower said he couldn’t abate his marijuana by Aug. 8, but had the plants down the following day, Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson presented photographs supporting that all three growers had abated.

Strom was satisfied that the three groups of marijuana growers met their requirements and no fines were given.

Under the moratorium banning the growing of more than six marijuana plants per household, the Board of Supervisors charged the sheriff’s office with monitoring Plumas County for illegal grows.

To date, Rogers is the first individual identified as illegally growing hemp in Plumas County.

Hemp vs. marijuana

In 2014 the federal government under the Agricultural Act of 2014 made it legal to grow what’s termed industrial hemp for research purposes in states where growth and cultivation are legal.

By 2017, 40 states removed barriers for producing industrial hemp for research purposes. California is one of those states.

Historically industrial hemp was grown to produce fiber. During World War II, U.S. farmers were encouraged to grow hemp to supply the country’s needs when the Japanese cut off supplies.

Plants that produce hemp fiber are tall, described as bamboo-like, and are more easily identified as hemp, as discussed in the Aug. 22 hearing.

Today’s industrial hemp uses go far beyond those of earlier production. Hemp is now used as food (hemp nuts); additions to foods; for use in clothing, paper, biofuels, bioplastics, dietary supplements and cosmetics; and a major source of oil used in more than 25,000 different applications, according to the web site The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana.

Industrial hemp plants now cultivated are primarily raised for their oil and cannabinoids or CBDs. Industrial hemp does not produce the levels of THC or tetrahydrocannebinol traditionally found in marijuana that produces the high or psychoactive effect. Legal industrial hemp must have less than 0.03 percent of THC, Strom pointed out in the hearing.

Both hemp and marijuana are members of the cannabis family.

According to Dan Sutton of Tantulus Labs, a Canadian company that specializes in cannabis cultivation technology, “The core agricultural differences between medical cannabis and hemp are largely in their genetic parentage and cultivation environment.”

During the Aug. 22 hearing, Hendrickson and Detective Steve Peay both told Strom that they couldn’t visually tell the difference between hemp and marijuana plants.

Although industrial hemp is traditionally grown in more secure areas and in tighter patterns, Strom said the only way to officially distinguish the difference is by testing in a state-approved lab.

The inability to distinguish between the two plants isn’t confined to Plumas County. Many law enforcement officers across the country agree. Industrial hemp’s difference has also confused legislators. In the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, all types of cannabis were classified as a schedule 1 drug and were banned. It wasn’t until more recent years that legislators began distinguishing between industrial hemp and marijuana and changes came to laws concerning hemp.

Although both Rogers and his attorney attempted to explain the differences between the two plants, they were unable to produce ways to distinguish between them other than testing.

Research institution

Sheriff Greg Hagwood said his office tried to discourage growers of either industrial hemp or marijuana earlier this year. Some of the growers who were operating last year and in previous years decided against growing in 2018 as determined by the county’s moratorium.

The risk of growing cannabis is a business decision, said Obayashi. Those who decide to grow cannabis in excess of the state’s legal amount of six plants per household, run the risk of crop loss, fines and investigative costs, he said.

Although Hagwood said he told Rogers and others not to grow, they made the choice to take the risk.

While some chose to locate their crops in more out-of-the-way locations in hopes of not being discovered, others like Rogers did so openly.

Rogers attempted to explain to Strom and Assistant County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr the steps he took in attempting to establish his ranch as a legitimate research facility.

As a past marijuana grower, following the county’s moratorium he switched to industrial hemp.

Rogers said he talked and communicated by email with many individuals associated with growing industrial hemp and in the research industry. One person he talked to was Plumas County Agriculture Commissioner Tim Gibson.

Gibson said that at this stage his office has no authority over cannabis, but he expects that to change in the near future.

Gibson said he recommended that Rogers familiarize himself with state laws concerning industrial hemp.

Rogers said he attempted to communicate with others including Obayashi, Hagwood and members of the Board of Supervisors. Rogers was also involved with Plumas County Growers Coalition.

One of the contacts Rogers made was with Global Exchange, a nonprofit involved in human rights around the world. Its web site describes it as promoting social, economic and environmental justice since 1988. Kevin Danaher, who said he is a faculty member at Feather River College, is listed as a co-founder and executive director of Friends of SF Environment, one of Global Exchange’s programs, according to its website.

Rogers presented an MOU with Danaher and Global Exchange as proof that he was establishing his ranch as a hemp research facility.

This was the only document Strom accepted from Rogers. But she stated she had problems understanding how hemp research fit into the nonprofit’s programs. Then Stuhr, the assistant county counsel asked, “how does that fit in with the industrial hemp?”

Rogers said it fit in with green economy programs. He said that they talked about vegetable garden solutions. And that “it’s a new thing we’re all learning.”

Danaher eventually arrived at the hearing and stated that Global Exchange assists groups, especially in underdeveloped countries, with agriculture projects.

Stuhr also asked Rogers about his research goal. Rogers said he was intent on sharing information he learned about a new business venture. Rogers said it was Danaher who was interested in a business model.

Stuhr also questioned Rogers about how he went about establishing his center. He said it wasn’t necessary to register with the secretary of state. He said he actively researched what was needed.

When Stuhr asked if Rogers had additional documentation, Williams answered that Rogers had also had established an MOU with bioRemedies.

Explaining further, Rogers described this company as being a huge Eastern company that was excited about doing business in California concerning industrial hemp.

That company supplied Rogers with some of the hemp seed he used on his own ranch. As a pharmaceutical company, Rogers said bioRemedies is linked with West Virginia University. They also have small hemp grows in Colorado and Virginia and they were hoping to establish major grows in this state. He said he met with bioRemedies Chief Executive Officer John Turner in Willits recently.

But Strom refused to accept emails or copies of the only communications Rogers’ seemed to have with the company. “I can’t accept something that’s on the phone,” she added.

Williams said that was the best evidence that they had. He added that any reasonable person would understand it.

“That’s not my job,” Strom said. When it was proposed that they contact Powers by phone, Strom said they were not set up to do that. She pointed out that getting all of the information together was what the two weeks were for, otherwise she considered much of what Rogers was attempting to present as hearsay.

Later in the hearing, Obayashi stated that he contacted representatives at West Virginia University and they were not affiliated with bioRemedies.

Obayashi also said that he had contacted FRC President Kevin Trutna and asked if Danaher was an instructor at the college. Trutna, according to Obayashi, said that Danaher had taught a sociology class at night a few years ago. Obayashi said Trutna told him that Danaher was not on the staff at this time.

Without knowing what Obayashi said earlier in the hearing, Danaher said he taught at FRC in spring 2017. He was also preparing a permaculture program with the agriculture department.

Although Rogers did not commit to abating his industrial hemp plants at the hearing, Obayashi said that he had a phone call from Rogers the morning of Aug. 24. He said Rogers said he’d had it and had cut down all his plants. Obayashi said the sheriff’s department was going to check on it.