Tuesday afternoon saw a spirited debate in Stockton as the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted on two issues related to hemp and cannabis.
The board voted 3-2 to approve two resolutions supporting BioPharm Holdings, LLC, a company that hopes to extract CBD or cannabidiol from hemp and cannabis plants for animal feed and conduct research and development for plant-based vaccines. Supervisors Bob Elliott and Chuck Winn cast the two dissenting votes.
James Higa, one of BioPharm’s founders, said the company plans to bring approximately $200 million and 70 jobs to the county in the first year, $500 million and 175 jobs in the second year and $700 million and 245 jobs in the third year.
“We want a long-term partner,” Higa said. “We want to bring high-dollar jobs.”
Randy Fenley, another of BioPharm’s founders, said his company chose San Joaquin County for their headquarters due to the county’s strong agricultural and industrial base.
“We’re looking for a home that’s conducive to long-term growth,” Fenley said. “We determined that San Joaquin County is our first choice.”
Although BioPharm has not yet applied for a development agreement with the county, Fenley said the company must show its investors that it has made progress before their memorandum of understanding expires in May.
“That’s why we’re asking for this resolution,” Fenley said.
As BioPharm has not yet applied for a development agreement, Elliott felt the resolutions were largely unnecessary as they do not guarantee that the project would be approved. He also expressed concerns that the resolutions may be seen as the board showing favoritism to BioPharm.
“It just looks like we’re giving pre-approval,” Elliott said.
Winn echoed Elliott’s sentiments, and expressed concerns of his own that approving the resolutions could open the doors for other developers to seek similar resolutions for their own projects and add an extra step to the application process.
“If a developer sees our board take this action, they’ll want to do this, too,” Winn said.
The public has not yet had the opportunity to voice their own concerns regarding the project and the project has not yet approved the project, Winn said, which added to the reasons why he felt the resolutions were inappropriate.
“I understand the urgency, but I can’t imagine myself to give the green light to any project without seeing all details of it,” Winn said.
Howard Seligman, a Stockton-based lawyer representing BioPharm, disagreed with Winn’s and Elliott’s beliefs that the resolutions could be misconstrued as the board giving pre-approval to the project and said he believes the two supervisors voted against the resolutions due to their own personal biases against hemp and cannabis.
“You have been consistently voting against anything that has to do with hemp and cannabis,” Seligman said.
“This has nothing to do with hemp,” Winn said. “It has everything to do with adding an extra step to the application process.”
Supervisor Kathy Miller supported the resolutions, saying their only purpose is “testing the waters of the board’s resolve,” regarding the project.
“I have confidence that the resolutions will not be misinterpreted,” Miller said.
The board also voted unanimously to approve fees related to growing industrial hemp.
Under the California Food and Agricultural Code (FAC), registered growers can grow industrial hemp, according to the fee proposal.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) will implement regulations on registration and renewal fees, while each county’s agricultural commis- sioner will oversee and enforce regulations on registration, cultivation, sampling, testing and abatement.
The FAC requires agricultural commissioners to collect state-imposed registration and renewal fees of $900.
“Of the $900, $135 will be sent back to the county to cover the cost of collecting those fees,” said Tim Pelican, San Joaquin’s agricultural commissioner.
Although counties cannot bill the state for costs related to sampling, testing or enforcement, the FAC does allow counties to establish their own fees to cover those costs.
The proposed fees will cover the actual costs of the hourly rate for agricultural biologists and standards inspectors, mileage based on the current fees charged by the San Joaquin County Motor Pool and the costs of any special materials needed.
Pelican said on Monday that he did not have an estimate of how much revenue the fees might generate, as that amount would depend on how many people register as industrial hemp growers.
“We’ve had several people call and show interest,” Pelican said.