Even when he’s out of office, former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado has an uncanny ability to make news.
This time, it has nothing to do with politics.
Maldonado’s name surfaced this week after authorities discovered what appeared to be an unlicensed marijuana grow on San Luis Obispo County land owned by the Maldonado family.
Authorities were told that it’s industrial hemp, but according to the county, the plants were so young that it was hard to tell one way or the other.
County code enforcement asked for evidence that it is indeed hemp and gave the growers a couple of weeks to offer proof.
We’ll be waiting to learn those results.
Meanwhile, there’s no debate over the green stuff growing on a plot of Maldonado-owned land across the county line, in Santa Maria.
Maldonado acknowledged leasing four acres there to a grower who is legally cultivating medical marijuana.
“Let’s just say my thinking has evolved,” he told the Santa Barbara Independent, which first reported the grow.
Obviously, we’ve all come a long way from Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale” days.
Think about it for a moment: A high-ranking Republican who was once in the running to be Donald Trump’s secretary of agriculture can allow medical pot to be grown on his land — and as long as he’s following the rules, no one seems to care.
But here’s the rub: When it comes to cannabis, following the rules can be tricky.
Right now, California has a weird mishmash of laws that vary from county to county and city to city.
Hemp has been caught in the middle — in part because authorities fear it will be used as a cover to grow marijuana, prompting some officials to consider banning it.
In June, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors considered banning cultivation of commercial hemp, but decided instead to wait until the state has updated its laws.
In the meantime, is it legal to grow hemp in SLO County?
We were told that it’s a “gray area.”
While it’s theoretically legal to grow it, it’s not possible for a grower to fulfill all the requirements associated with cultivation. For example, hemp growers are required to obtain a lab test of the THC level of their crop. (THC is the chief intoxicant in marijuana.) And they’re supposed to attach a copy of their registration to the sample to be tested.
Sounds straightforward, except for one hitch: There is no registration system said up yet.
So, according to county officials, the only legal way to grow hemp right now is under the auspices of a research facility, since research institutions aren’t required to go through the registration process.
If the growers can show that the hemp — if it is hemp — on the Maldonado land is being cultivated in association with a research facility, “then we wash our hands and we’re done,” said Art Trinidade, county code enforcement supervisor.
And if not?
“Then it’s a violation. We have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”
That’s not good.
Somebody — either the state, the county, or both — needs to get its act together and issue some clear-cut guidance.
We’ll be waiting for that, too.