Louisiana lawmakers have advanced a bill that would bring the state’s hemp laws better in line with new federal regulations. The bill, which would legalize the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp in Louisiana, advanced out of the House agriculture committee on Thursday. While passage of the bill would end the state’s ban on hemp and hemp products, lawmakers hope it will also spark economic opportunities for struggling farmers. Growing hemp privately and for personal use, however, would be strictly prohibited under the bill.
Hemp Legalization Bill Still Doesn’t Address Louisiana’s Confusing CBD Laws
In January of this year, the passage of the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act, a.k.a. the Farm Bill, changed the Controlled Substances Act to no longer include hemp products with less than 0.3 percent THC. And while some states have already embraced the U.S.’s bourgeoning hemp industry, others still have laws on the books that treat hemp just like marijuana, i.e., with harsh criminal sentences.
Just this week, a Lafayette, Louisiana entrepreneur was arrested and is now behind bars facing multiple felony drug charges for selling cannabidiol (CBD). Travis DeYoung had just opened his Cajun Cannabis storefront and cafe on 4/20, when police raided the establishment days later, seizing large quantities of CBD oils, edibles and other products. DeYoung said the CBD in those products came from federally legal hemp, not marijuana. Louisiana regulators and law enforcement officials continue to warn the public about the illegality of CBD products and sales.
Proposed Hemp Industry Would Lock Out Those Most Impacted by Prohibition
Republican Rep. Clay Schexnayder’s House Bill 491 wouldn’t address the looming uncertainties surrounding cannabidiol. But it would set up a regulatory framework for a state hemp industry. Schexnayder said hemp production would give a boost to the agricultural sector in Louisiana, creating new jobs and growth opportunities.
But not jobs and growth opportunities for everyone. While many states are working (and struggling) to foster equity in the legal cannabis industry, Louisiana would bar anyone with prior convictions—including misdemeanors—from participating in its future hemp industry.
The bill says that anyone “convicted of a felony or a drug-related misdemeanor offense within the last 10 years” would be ineligible to receive a license to grow, process or even transport hemp.
Under the 2018 Farm Bill, states can develop hemp cultivation programs so long as they obtain approval from the U.S. Agriculture Department. The timeline of Rep. Schexnayder’s proposal would require the state to submit its regulatory plan to the USDA by November 1, 2019. If lawmakers can meet that deadline, Louisiana could start putting hemp seeds in the ground by 2020. And under the bill, those seeds would have to come from Europe or Africa.
Louisiana’s Agriculture Commissioner, Mike Strain, backs Rep. Schexnayder’s legislation. “The idea is to grow and take advantage of a crop we have’t been growing since 1938,” Strain said.
House Democrats also approve of the hemp legalization bill, but they want to be sure Louisiana does everything it can to encourage farmers to participate. “Everyone should have an equal opportunity to grow this,” said Democratic state Rep. Dustin Miller.
Everyone, that is, except individuals in their private residence or anyone with so much as a weed ticket on their record.