Law enforcement officials bulldozed purported hemp fields near Arvin Monday after tests showed the plants were actually marijuana, according to people familiar with the multi-agency investigation.
In a potential setback to Kern County’s efforts to promote cultivation of industrial hemp, two people involved in production of the crop said law enforcement began knocking down plants over the weekend as part of a plan to destroy what was determined to be marijuana.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Office declined Monday to comment on reports of crop destruction, saying only that it could not talk about what the agency has called an active investigation of hemp in the Arvin area.
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.”
He said some local fields were cleared over the weekend and that additional acreage was being cleared Monday.
With more than 7,000 registered acres in cultivation, Kern County has quickly emerged as a leading producer of hemp in California. One reason county officials say they support growing the plant is that it cross-pollinates with marijuana in a way that lowers the potency of pot.
Dalton, a consultant for a San Francisco company that processes hemp into CBD, said KCSO is working on the investigation with the FBI and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The FBI and the DFW last week referred calls about the possible destruction of purported hemp plants near Arvin to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, which said last week the investigation is a “pretty, pretty big investigation.” Spokespeople for the FBI and the DFW could not be reached for comment late Monday.
The county's agricultural commissioner declined last week to speak about the possible destruction of purported hemp, calling it a matter for law enforcement.