Authorities in Kern County, California destroyed about 10 million marijuana plants being grown under the guise of industrial hemp.
Investigators with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office seized the plants, which they estimate to have a street value of more than $1 billion, from 11 fields in the Arvin area on Oct. 25, according to a news release from the Sheriff’s Office.
Industrial hemp is a variety of cannabis sativa plant that has much lower levels of the psychoactive chemical THC than are found in marijuana. Industrial hemp grown for commercial sale must, by law, contain no more than 0.3% THC, though there’s an exemption for hemp grown for research purposes, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The plants seized by investigators were being grown for commercial consumption and contained THC contents “well over” the legal limit, meaning that they “were in fact cannabis,” the sheriff’s office said. Kern County voted to ban commercial cannabis activity in 2017.
No arrests were made, and authorities haven’t determined whether they’ll seek charges, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office said. The investigation remains ongoing. It was conducted jointly with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the FBI.
Lance Dalton, a Bay Area hemp entrepreneur who has worked with other local growers of the plant, said he was told by law enforcement that some of the fields being destroyed were under contract by a local hemp researcher who had failed to register some local acreage.
Federal law permits qualified researchers to possess hemp that tests positive for marijuana but they may not process or sell it. They must also register with local authorities where the plant is growing and post signs saying it is industrial hemp.
Dalton said more than two dozen samples came up “hot,” meaning they tested above the 0.3-percent federal limit for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Some of the plants tested as high as 7 percent, he said, adding, “that’s basically marijuana.”
Hemp has become highly valuable in recent years because its oil is used to produce the popular cure-all known as CBD. The plant has other uses as well, including for cordage and animal bedding.
Bakersfield-area grower Pete Belluomini, who has worked with a registered local hemp researcher, confirmed local law enforcement has tested some of the crop he was contracted to grow “and determined (the plants) were over the legal limits and they asked that they be destroyed.”