The Kern County Sheriff's Office announced Thursday it has seized and eradicated more than 459 acres of marijuana in the Arvin area that had been cultivated under the guise of being legal hemp.
In a joint investigation with the FBI and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the sheriff's office said it served a search warrant in the area last Friday after receiving information that led it to 11 fields containing about 10 million pot plants with a street value of more than $1 billion.
The sheriff's office said all samples of the plants tested "well above" the federal limit of 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. As The Californian reported earlier this week, sources have said some samples tested as high as 7 percent.
It was unclear what legal authority the sheriff's office used to seize the plants. As the agency itself reported in a brief news release Thursday, federal law permits researchers to possess, but not sell or process, hemp that exceeds the federal THC limit, so long as the plant's cultivation is intended to produce hemp that falls within the legal limit.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff's office did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday. The agency has previously declined to answer questions about eradication of hemp in the Arvin, saying its investigation is ongoing.
Hemp has become highly valued in recent years as consumers embrace the cure-all known as cannabidiol, or CBD, which comes from the hemp plant. CBD does not produce the euphoric high that marijuana does.
The seizures complicate Kern's efforts to promote cultivation of hemp, a plant that was legal in the United States until it was banned, along with marijuana, in the late 1930s. Hemp has traditionally been used for cordage, though it is also used in animal bedding, concrete and textiles.
The seizures represent a relatively small portion of Kern's total hemp acreage. More than 7,000 acres of hemp have been registered with the county agricultural commissioner's office, which requires farmers state where they grow the plant and post signs stating the crop is hemp.
County officials have said they support hemp cultivation because it cross-pollinates with marijuana plants and effectively lowers pot's THC level. Pot production, sale and processing is all but illegal in most parts of Kern County.