Community complaints about the smell emanating from hemp farms and unfounded claims that the odor is causing health problems for some in Baltimore County has again inspired legislation threatening Maryland’s “right-to-farm” laws.
Last week, County Councilperson Wade Kach, a Republican representing Cockeysville, Maryland introduced Bill 94-20, preventing hemp farms from being more than 2,000 feet from a residence and requiring a hemp harvesting facility be 500 feet or more from a hemp farm’s property line. Councilperson Kach has cited complaints by Baltimore County residents who have since last year, complained about the smell of hemp and claim that it has led to asthma and other breathing problems—health issues that experts say do not occur when one lives in proximity of a hemp farm.
Specifically, these residents live near Broadway Hemp Farm and have complained since last year that during the growing season from July-November, the smell sticks to clothing and inside of their homes and they claim, also causes headaches and respiratory problems. Earlier this year however, The Delmarva Farmer reported that documents showed that a state odor survey for the area around Broadway Hemp, “concluded the crop was not a nuisance to nearby homeowners.” The Delmarva Farmer also put this ongoing battle in no uncertain terms: “The dispute has pitted a small band of upscale, suburban homeowners and their legislators against the state’s agricultural industry.”
Broadway Hemp Farm is one of three hemp farms currently in Baltimore County. Hemp farmers and cannabis and hemp advocates have stressed that this bill would hinder the ability to farm, limit the burgeoning hemp industry, and most importantly, violate right-to-farm laws which exist to stop “nuisance lawsuits” directed at standard farming practices: “The intent of right-to-farm laws are to discourage neighbors from pursuing nuisance lawsuits against farmers because of odor, dust, noise from field work, spraying of farm chemicals, slow moving farm equipment or other occasional effects of agricultural production,” the Maryland Department of Agriculture explained.
There was already state-level legislation inspired by county resident complaints about hemp farms. Back in February, two bills were introduced in Maryland’s House Of Representatives to address Broadway Hemp Farm. House Bill 510 would have prevented a farm where hemp is grown to be within two miles of a residential community and House Bill 574 prevented a farm where hemp is grown from being within 25 feet of a property with three or more residences unless it is grown in an indoor facility. Both bills did not receive a vote because of the limited legislative session due to Covid-19. One of the most convincing issues with the House Bills were that it would apply to hemp farms all across the state when the complaints are relegated to one part of the state (Baltimore County) and one specific farm (Broadway Hemp Farm).
A public hearing for Kach’s Bill 94-20 last week also reflected the back-and-forth seen earlier this year in the house, with residents making claims about inconvenience and illness as a result of hemp and farmers and advocates pushing back. During the hearing, those in favor of the bill referenced the (unfounded) complaints about Broadway Hemp Farm’s and mentioned a planned fourth hemp farm in the county, which was brought to the attention of Kach by residents.
“There are no studies showing negative healthy effects of hemp. You may not like the smell but it is not dangerous,” Kevin Atticks who manages the Maryland Hemp Coalition said and also invoked Maryland’s right-to-farm laws. “There is no influence on the air quality from the aroma from hemp.”
On Monday October 5, Bill 94-20 was supposed to be put up for a vote but the Baltimore County Council delayed that vote with plans to hear more concerns from hemp farmers and county residents.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this situation is leaving people uncomfortable,” Councileperson Kach said on Monday night. “My major concern is—is it putting anybody’s health at risk? And I don’t have an answer to that question.”
Image of Broadway Hemp Farm and the surrounding area via Google Earth