Maryland hemp farmers came out in opposition to two hemp-related bills that would limit where they can grow their crop all because of significant complaints by neighbors about a farm in Baltimore County.
The two bills are House Bill 510, which would prevent a farm where hemp is grown to be within two miles of a residential community (the bill defines a residential community as one where there are ten or more homes); and House Bill 574, which would prevent 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.
These bills are based on an ongoing controversy in Baltimore County surrounding Broadway Hemp Farm’s smell. Residents said that during its July-November growing season, the hemp smell “would cling to their clothes, cause headaches, and drift through open windows.” They eventually took those complaints to legislators. Almost 40 people submitted written testimony to the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
“Headaches, sinus infections, asthma, burning eyes, nausea, coughing, sore throat, migraines, other breathing troubles, other health symptoms—these were not minor or inconsequential impacts,” Delegate Dana Stein, a cosponsor on HB 510, testified. “They affected the health, and they affected the quality of life of residents, and they continued for three months until the hemp was finally harvested in November.”
Residents near Broadway Hemp provided impassioned testimony about how it has affected their lives. Elizabeth Forbush invoked, “people all over America who have had to endure the nightmare of living next to a hemp field,” while Tina Lignos mentioned “persistent migraines” and questioned whether terpenes were “safe at all.” They claimed that the science was still out on hemp, and as a result, this bill should go through until more research is done.
Hemp farmers and hemp advocates, however, argue that these bills would seriously hinder their ability to farm, would crush the burgeoning hemp industry, violate right-to-farm, and are based entirely on anecdotal evidence.
Lindsay Thompson, executive director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, who lives less than a quarter of a mile from a hemp farm herself, stressed that residents agree to these farming-related nuisances when they chose to live in Maryland.
“Every person that purchases a home in the state of Maryland or signs a rental agreement signs an acknowledgement that they are aware that they are buying land in a county that includes agriculture,” Johnson said. “And [that] they may experience inconvenience and discomfort such as noise, odor, fumes, or low-flying aircrafts that may interfere with the enjoyment of that land.”
“I was having a lot of flashbacks to some conversations that have happened often around the chicken industry,” Holly Porter, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. said. “I hear that, ‘We are not opposed to the chicken industry and we don’t want to end it, but.’”
Indeed, Senator Shelly Hettleman said just that during a hearing that same day for the analogous Senate Bill 964: “I voted for and support the growth of industrial hemp. This is about finding a balance between the needs of the farmers and the rights of the farmers and the needs and the rights of our constituents and homeowners.”
The larger concern by hemp farmers was the precedent this sets for future bills which could enact similar restrictions on other types of farming because of complaints regarding smell or noise. This bill, established in response to one hemp farm in one county in Maryland, is not the way to address the problem, they argued. Instead, this should be a local zoning issue.
The presence of a number of hemp farmers was particularly persuasive. Patrick Hess of Clayton View Farms in Harford County grows hemp—his farm is open-air and sits on 89 acres—and referenced the odor survey for Broadway Hemp farm. As reported by Delmarva Farmer, the odor survey said the smell “was not a nuisance to nearby homeowners.”
“If we had definite irrefutable scientific data that said that this stuff makes people sick, I would stop growing it right away,” Hess said. “My hemp farm is within one mile of a major housing community, which is called Constant Friendship. I have had zero, not one complaint from one of my neighbors, from anybody in that housing development, from anybody around me, not one complaint.”
If residents’ health is so severely and regularly compromised by the presence of hemp, then farmers themselves like Hess, would presumably be even more negatively impacted and yet, here he was, alive and well. Hess said that if HB 510 were applied across the state, it would mean the end of his farm: “If it is done statewide, I’m done.”
There was even testimony from those in the hemp industry who have worked in the very same area that residents described as “a nightmare.” Kevin Atticks spent time around Broadway Hemp Farm during the growing season in question because he is the founder of the Maryland Hemp Coalition—and also because he’s actually moving to the neighborhood where Broadway Hemp farm is located very soon.
“I’ll also say that in forming the Maryland Hemp Coalition, I spent a lot of time walking through hemp farms and into drying barns and sheds and riding in pickup trucks and handling the plant over the summer and into the fall,” Atticks said. “I did not experience [the effects]. And that’s just my experience, I’m not claiming that anyone else’s experience is false or what they’re claiming is false. But there are irritants that irritate certain people.”
Atticks stressed that there’s no evidence that the air near a hemp farm or breathing the air near a hemp farm is hazardous to one’s health.
Darren O’Brien, whose family owns one of the other two hemp farms currently in Baltimore County, explained that three residences adjoin his farm, and he hasn’t received any complaints from his neighbors. His kids and family help harvest and process hemp, and if there were consistent adverse health effects, he would know and he wouldn’t grow hemp for that reason.
“We’re here because of one location,” O’Brien told the House Environment and Transportation Committee. “You will crush a company like mine.”
Photo of hemp field by Rick Lohre via Shutterstock.