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SLO County investigating possible marijuana farm on land owned by Abel Maldonado

Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado leaves Mar-a-Lago after meetings with President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Palm Beach, Fla.
Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado leaves Mar-a-Lago after meetings with President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Palm Beach, Fla. AP

San Luis Obispo County code enforcement officers are investigating a possible unlicensed marijuana farm on South County land owned by former California Republican Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado.

Working off a tip from the Sheriff’s Office, code enforcement officers visited the farm and saw what “appears to be in excess of 30 acres of what appears to be cannabis,” Code Enforcement Supervisor Art Trinidade said.

A deputy on routine patrol spotted the plants on the farm July 26 and talked to workers at the site who claimed the plants were industrial hemp, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla said.

Hemp falls under a different set of rules than what the state defines as cannabis. Under California regulations, hemp can be cultivated by established agricultural research institutions.

Whether the crop is hemp and whether the farm has proper authority to grow the regulated crop is under investigation, though Trinidade says the burden of proof falls to those operating the farm.

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Trinidade declined to provide additional details of the investigation both to The Tribune and New Times, which first broke the story.

Maldonado — who was considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Agriculture — recently told the Santa Barbara Independent that he is leasing farmland in Santa Maria to a medical cannabis operation licensed with the state, and that his thinking on cannabis has evolved.

Cannabis operations must be permitted by the county and licensed by the state. Currently, there are no cannabis cultivation sites permitted in San Luis Obispo County.

If a plant has 0.3 percent THC or less, it would meet the state’s definition of industrial hemp, according to deputy County Counsel Brian Stack.

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Maldonado began his political career in 1994 as a city councilman and then mayor in Santa Maria and served as a state legislator before becoming lieutenant governor from 2010 to 2011.

In July 2015, fieldworkers from Agro-Jal Farms filed a class action lawsuit against the Santa Maria farmer alleging that they were denied overtime wages and not provided meal and rest periods. That lawsuit is ongoing.

Budtender Danny Cress gives a crash course in recreational marijuana, legal in California as of Jan. 1.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930; @MonicaLVaughan
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