Abel Maldonado
Paul Wellman

California’s former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado found himself uncomfortably scrutinized last week when San Luis Obispo County inspectors visited 30 acres of his farmland to determine whether Maldonado was growing cannabis or hemp. Maldonado has insisted it’s the latter; county inspectors worried it was the former. The confusion is significant.

San Luis Obispo has not embraced the cannabis industry as Santa Barbara County has, and some individuals are reportedly trying to cultivate medicinal cannabis while skirting state and county laws by declaring themselves hemp growers. Hemp cultivation is currently not legal, except for growers affiliated with research institutions. Maldonado is reportedly working with such an institution but has yet to identify it by name and describe the nature of the research. State law does not clarify what qualifies as a legitimate research institution. Earlier this summer, San Luis Obispo County administrator Guy Savage asked county supervisors to close that research-affiliation “loophole,” to no avail.

No determination has been made yet whether the crop in question is hemp or cannabis. Hemp is defined by its low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) count. Hemp, like cannabis, is cultivated for its CBD (cannabidiol), even though it has lower CBD potency. In response to growing concern that some growers are switching to hemp to avoid the regulations designed to deal with legalized recreational cannabis, the California Department of Public Health issued a decree this summer that any commercially sold CBD products had to come from cannabis, not hemp.

Maldonado, a lifelong Republican who sought appointment as Trump’s secretary of agriculture, has expressed newly discovered enthusiasm for the healing properties of CBD, a compound found in varying degrees in both hemp and cannabis. He expressed vexation with San Luis Obispo County officials, whom he said should have known he was growing hemp, not cannabis. It was the first hemp crop he has planted, he said.


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