Hemp is legal, but it still faces a regulatory battle in California

Another battle over local control of cannabis is about to roil California.

Only this time, it’s marijuana’s mellow cousin, hemp, that’s at the heart of disputes that engulf cities, counties and the state — and farmers who hope to grow the potentially lucrative crop.

On April 30, about two and a half years after California voters lifted a decades-long ban on the cultivation of industrial hemp, the California Department of Food and Agriculture abruptly gave the go-ahead for farmers to register with counties for permission to grow hemp strains of cannabis, a plant that has virtually no trace of the compound in marijuana that makes consumers high. Farmers thought they just needed to fill out the state’s one-page registration form, pay a $900 annual fee, and get hemp seeds in the ground before the window closed on this year’s planting season.

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“Unfortunately, it feels like the counties and the county agricultural commissioners think they have more authority right now than they really have,” said Patrick Goggin, a San Francisco attorney who’s been advocating for legal hemp for 15 years.

“We could be headed for some serious battles.”