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Baltimore County Council delays vote on restrictions for hemp farming

Hemp plants grow Oct. 2, 2020, in Baltimore County.
Hemp plants grow Oct. 2, 2020, in Baltimore County. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore County Council delayed a vote on whether to enact restrictions on local hemp farms to allow officials more time to consider the concerns reported by farmers and the residents surrounding the fields.

Hemp is a strain of cannabis that looks and smells much like the plant that’s smoked recreationally and medicinally. But hemp contains only a very small amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which causes the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis.

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The plant mostly contains cannabidiol oil, or CBD, which is used in pills, creams and consumable products. CBD’s popularity is growing because scientists discovered it stimulates a reaction in the body that reduces pain and inflammation.

Hemp fields release an odor from late summer until early November, when the plant is harvested, and residents living near one of the county’s five farms have voiced health concerns over the stench.

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Baltimore County Councilman Wade Kach responded to complaints by sponsoring a bill that would prohibit hemp farms within 2,000 feet of a residential property. The Cockeysville Republican’s proposal would also require harvesting facilities to be set back at least 500 feet from the farm’s property line. Hemp farms would be prohibited from operating within 2 miles of another hemp farm.

The bill would also require prospective hemp farmers to obtain a special exception and public hearing in the county, on top of the existing state permit and inspection to grow hemp.

Farmers and agricultural advocates opposed the bill because they feared it would “virtually eliminate” hemp production on small farms. The opponents also said it would interfere with local and state right-to-farm laws.

The council voted unanimously Monday night to delay the vote on the bill to Nov. 2.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this situation is leaving people uncomfortable, but my major concern is, ‘Is it putting anybody’s health at risk?’ and I don’t have an answer to that question,” Kach said.

Kach said the county’s attorney is worried the county could face lawsuits if the bill is enacted as written.

Kach also said there are farms in the county that are surrounded by neighbors who have never complained about odors. He acknowledged there could be different strains of cannabis that may not put out strong odors that are being grown at other farms in the county.

“The question is how close are these residences where there are no complaints and the answer I got, in one case, is the nearest residence is 500 feet,” Kach said.

A group of state lawmakers from Baltimore County attempted to tighten statewide hemp restrictions earlier this year, but they failed to get enough support from legislators elsewhere. Kach said state lawmakers from Baltimore County wanted him to pass the county bill in October, “but I told them it can’t.”

“There’s a question as to whether or not the county can put restrictions in a situation like this where a particular farm is already growing hemp, and the county then imposes distance restrictions. These issues are ones that I would like to pursue over the next couple of weeks,” Kach said.

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