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Abel Maldonado cleared of illegal marijuana grow in SLO County

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

Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and San Luis Obispo County code enforcement officials have confirmed that Maldonado’s South County ranch was indeed growing industrial hemp, not marijuana, as reported by the Sheriff’s Office two weeks ago.

Maldonado’s public relations firm said in a news release Thursday that San Luis Obispo County Code Enforcement staff informed Maldonado this week that a county investigation into his organic industrial hemp grow has been closed and no action will be taken.

Code Enforcement Supervisor Art Trinidade confirmed that Maldonado provided the necessary documentation, including lab analysis of the plants and evidence that they are being grown in association with agricultural research institution Terra Focus LLC.

“I am grateful that this case is closed, and that San Luis Obispo County officially recognizes my legal right to cultivate industrial hemp on my ranch in San Luis Obispo County,” Maldonado said in the news release. “Furthermore, by resolving this matter so quickly, San Luis Obispo County Code Enforcement acknowledges that at no time did Runway Farms or myself ever have an illegal 30-acre cannabis grow on my ranch as reported ... by local media outlets.”

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Maldonado added that he plans in the near future “to publicly share more about my passion for industrial hemp farming,” calling himself a “strong advocate for industrial hemp and all of its many commercial uses.”

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,” Trinidade previously said.

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

Hemp falls under different rules than what the state defines as cannabis, and under state law, hemp can be cultivated by established agricultural research institutions.

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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.

On Thursday, Maldonado said: “The county staff member who falsely misrepresented that my industrial hemp crop as something other than hemp was 100 percent wrong.”

Maldonado — who was once considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Agriculture — 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.

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @mattfountain1

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