Hettleman proposing buffer for hemp farms
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Industrial hemp production in Maryland would be prohibited in residential areas under a forthcoming bill by a Baltimore County legislator.
Del. Shelly Hettleman said her legislation, which is still being drafted, would forbid hemp production on farms less than 2 miles from 10 or more residential homes. Existing hemp farms would not be grandfathered into the bill, and future operations would be required to observe that 2-mile buffer.
The bill would effectively shut down cultivation on eight or nine hemp farms in the state, mostly in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, the Democratic delegate said.
“My legislation is really kind of an attempt to balance the rights of farmers with the needs of the community and the surrounding areas,” Hettleman said.
The legislation stems from a months-long dispute between homeowners and a new, nearby hemp operation run by Vince Piccinini on Broadway Road in Lutherville-Timonium. The operation was one of more than 60 launched across the state last year after hemp production was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Piccinini’s farm, just a few miles north of Baltimore, is surrounded by upscale, suburban homes, and when its first crop began to mature this summer, its pungency irritated nearby homeowners, who “inundated” county legislators with complaints, Hettleman said.
Neighbors said the odor was “seeping into their cars, their homes and their clothing,” Hettleman said. “They felt like they couldn’t sit outside. Their kids were not playing. It just reeked.”
Due to their terpenes, hemp plants produce a heavy odor, often described as acrid or skunky, to repel pests and attract pollinators. The smell is often similar to that of marijuana. Both are strains of cannabis sativa.
Piccinini could not be reached for comment.
Since the summer, community members have held several contentious public meetings, which included the state health department and county legislators. Those meetings attracted 20 to 50 residents, said Del. John S. Cardin, D-Baltimore County. He said he’s drafting separate legislation that would also regulate hemp production statewide, but he declined to discuss the bill in detail last week, saying only that he doesn’t want to affect operations outside of his district.
“I’m not trying to stop” hemp production, he said. “I’m just trying to make it so that my community is not hysterical.”
Locals have turned to social media and the Internet to complain about the operation. One resident started an online petition that claimed nearby residents suffered nausea, respiratory issues and asthma attacks during the growing season. More than 50 people signed it.
News of the legislation has frustrated the state’s nascent hemp industry, which is seeking to expand while farmers look to profit from the high-value crop. The bills are the industry’s first significant political battle in the state, said Kevin Atticks, founder of Grow & Fortify, a Baltimore company that runs the Maryland Hemp Coalition.
“This is a right-to-farm issue, so if neighbors who move into agricultural areas get to dictate what can be grown or not grown, there is no right to farm,” he said. “This has major implications beyond this specific crop.”
The coalition is hosting its first advocacy day for legislators in Annapolis on Feb. 3. The incoming bills will be on the agenda, Atticks said.
“It will be a hot topic, and we’ve got a number of legislators joining us to talk about it, and I think it will be a good discussion, and we’ll hear from farmers,” he said.
The dispute is the most recent clash in Maryland between farms, many of which predate the suburban growth surrounding them, and frustrated homeowners. As commodity prices sag, many growers are diversifying their operations with new crops, products or services, leading some residents to protest. Farmers in Howard County fought angry residents for many years to loosen county regulations on mulching operations. Agritourism businesses and event spaces on farms across the state have also grappled in recent years with onerous regulations and resistance from local government.
Hettleman said she’s sees her bill simply as an addendum to existing restrictions on hemp planting. State law requires, for instance, that hemp only be grown on land zoned for agricultural purposes at least 1,000 feet from a school or public recreation area.
“This is not unprecedented in terms of putting regulations on where it can be cultivated,” she said.
But residents need to better understand where they live, Atticks said.
“That’s part of the deal when you choose to move into an area that has farms,” he said. “I experience smells myself living in a rural area, and I chose to live there for its rural character, and you’ve got to take what comes with it.”
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