A handful of Baltimore County residents who live near an industrial hemp farm and have for months complained of odors and questioned the possible health risks brought their concerns to Annapolis, arguing before House lawmakers Tuesday for action on the matter.
Agricultural advocates countered that legislative remedies to this issue would create a dangerous precedent while possibly stifling the state’s burgeoning hemp industry.
Residents of the Lutherville-Timonium neighborhood that surrounds and abuts a farm off Broadway Road told House Environment and Transportation Committee members that living near the hemp growing operation caused them to experience physical symptoms, including headaches, nausea and asthma.
“My wife has asthma, which was dormant for years, until last summer when she began reaching for her inhalers [when the crop flowered],” said Richard Sciacca, a resident of the neighborhood.
Elizabeth Forbush said living near the hemp field was a “nightmare," because of the skunky odor and the physical symptoms that she said it generated.
“Our quality of life has been upended,” she said.
The neighbors who spoke Tuesday, and around 40 who filed written testimonies, favor two proposed bills.
One would prohibit hemp farming within 2 miles of a residential community composed of 10 homes or more. The other bill would prohibit the production of hemp within 25 feet of a property or properties with three or more residences, unless the hemp is grown indoors.
Both were introduced by now Sen. Shelly Hettleman, until recently a delegate, and Del. Jon Cardin and Del. Dana Stein, all Baltimore County Democrats.
Cardin said he did not live in the neighborhood that surrounds the farm of Broadway Road, between Greenspring Avenue and Falls Road, but he drives by it often. During the growing season, it was “unbearable” because of the aroma, he said.
“I’m not interested in putting the farms out of business,” he added.
Opponents, though, said the bills would cripple Maryland’s hemp industry.
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Patrick Hess, a hemp farmer in Harford County, said a restriction on where hemp can be grown would force him to shut down.
“My hemp farm is within 1 mile of a major housing development in Harford County. I have had zero, not one complaint, from one of my neighbors, from anybody in that housing development,” Hess said. “Not one complaint. And it’s an open-air farm.”
Kevin Atticks, who founded the Maryland Hemp Coalition, testified that there is no scientific evidence that breathing the air near hemp operations can create negative health outcomes. Atticks said concerns about hemp farms in Maryland should be handled at the local level, through zoning or regulation, not legislation.
“The bills set a terrible precedent that, for the first time, the Maryland General Assembly would choose development over farms,” Atticks said.
Other industry groups, including the Maryland Grain Producers Association, the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., and the Maryland Farm Bureau, opposed the legislation, stating that it would create a dangerous precedent in law, superseding Maryland’s existing right-to-farm legislation.
Darren O’Brien, another hemp farmer in Baltimore County, also said he’s never received a complaint from a neighbor. He said he and his family harvest and process hemp and CBD, and that no one has experienced health effects.
“I think it’s this important that the research is done so that these bills are not passed, because you will crush a company like mine," O’Brien said.