A Lafayette CBD shop owner was arrested and his merchandise seized less than a week after his CBD and hemp-focused retail shop and café opened, reigniting confusion and debate about the legality of CBD products in Louisiana and the divide between state and federal law.
Travis DeYoung, owner of Cajun Cannabis, was arrested after a traffic stop Wednesday night. Deputies with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office then executed a search warrant on his Johnston Street storefront, seizing CBD oil, CBD-infused gummies and other edible products, and two handguns from his vehicle and store, among other items.
DeYoung was booked on 17 charges, including felony counts for possession of a firearm in the presence of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of a controlled dangerous substance in the presence of a juvenile and the manufacture, distribution or possession of marijuana.
Lafayette Sheriff Mark Garber said Thursday afternoon the arrest was the result of an ongoing investigation after multiple complaints were filed about illegal activity at the Cajun Cannabis storefront. Police bought products from Cajun Cannabis and they tested positive for THC, but Garber did not reveal the level of THC in the products.
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. It's typically extracted from hemp, a variety of cannabis distinct from marijuana because it's low in THC, the chemical in cannabis that gets users high. The store's offerings included CBD oils as well as CBD-infused candles, lotions, bath products and drinks.
Hemp is genetically distinct from marijuana according to the Congressional Research Service and has no more than 0.3 percent THC.
In recent years, CBD has exploded in popularity in the United States as users tout the product's natural health and wellness benefits. Before his grand opening Saturday, DeYoung said he suffered from chronic pain and found CBD and hemp products provided greater relief than traditional pharmaceuticals.
DeYoung said one of the main reasons he wanted to open Cajun Cannabis was to break the stigma against the plant and products made from it and educate the public about its health and wellness benefits.
Cajun Cannabis' products comply with federal regulations that distinguish between marijuana and hemp. Louisiana regulatory authorities, though, contend that the sale of CBD products is illegal. The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control said that products containing even zero percent THC are illegal.
"There’s no percentage that I’m aware of that’s a threshold or cutoff for state law," Garber said.
As news of DeYoung’s arrest and the store’s sweep unfolded, the Louisiana Legislature moved a bill out of the House agriculture committee that would create a pathway for farmers to legally grow industrial hemp in the state. The bill would bring state law in line with the 2018 federal Farm Bill.
A proposal to legalize the growth of hemp in Louisiana made it through the first phase of the legislative process Thursday, with the state agr…
The differences in federal and state law surrounding the hemp plant and CBD products have created confusion about what will be enforced and if businesses will be barred from selling CBD products in Louisiana.
In recent months the state Board of Pharmacy and the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control have issued public notices suggesting CBD is illegal in the state.
The Board of Pharmacy’s notice said outright that CBD is illegal, though the agency told its licensees that it did not have plans to take any enforcement actions. The state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control went as far as telling its permit holders — places like smoke shops and liquor stores — that it will start issuing citations to those that sell CBD products.
KATC reported before Cajun Cannabis’ opening that Lafayette's city permit manager said in an email they had been asked by the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control to deny Cajun Cannabis an occupancy permit. The ATC denied the claim.
Because Cajun Cannabis operates in a gray area and is not a pharmacy, bar or smoke shop, DeYoung said the ATC and Board of Pharmacy had no jurisdiction over his occupational license.
CBD can still be found at retailers across Louisiana, with such products even more abundant at online sellers. That doesn't make it legal, Garber said.
"Right now we’re 100 percent confident that what we seized were in fact illegal products. These were Schedule 1 narcotics and they are not legal to sell in Louisiana," he said. "Just because something is being offered in a retail establishment does not necessarily mean that it is legal to sell."
Other Lafayette businesses and retailers advertise the sale of hemp and CBD-infused products, but Garber said his department would not strip CBD products from all storefronts in the area.
"This is not something where we’re going to check every store that sells a CBD product or we’re going searching through inventories at Sam’s Club and Costco and things like that. This was in response to multiple, specific complaints asking us to look into something," he said.
Garber said outcry from the public that his office specifically targeted DeYoung and his business was "absurd."
"We target crime. We’re not targeting Mr. DeYoung as a person and we’re not targeting his business. We’re simply responding to complaints," he said.
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The sheriff said the decision to execute a search warrant and arrest Mr. DeYoung was made after careful consideration and consultation with the district attorney's office. Garber said his department is obligated to investigate when accusations of criminal activity are made.
Lafayette Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. John Mowell said he was unaware of any similar complaints against other area businesses. When The Acadiana Advocate asked for copies of similar complaints, Mowell said they would be considered part of pending investigations and “would not be something we would be able to provide details on.”
DeYoung was booked into the Lafayette Parish Jail just after 7 a.m. Thursday and online booking records show he was in custody as of 6:30 p.m.
He was booked on two counts of possession of a firearm in the presence of a controlled dangerous substance, both felonies; possession of a controlled dangerous substance in the presence of a juvenile, a felony; seven counts of possession with intent to distribute controlled dangerous substances; two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia; and two counts of manufacture, distribution or possession of marijuana, one felony and one misdemeanor, according to a release from the sheriff's department and online jail records.
He was also booked on three additional counts for the manufacture and distribution of drugs, online jail records show.
Online jail records show DeYoung has a court appearance scheduled for Friday at 8 a.m. His bail is currently set at $332,000 for his collective charges, records show.
A GoFundMe campaign was started to help cover DeYoung’s legal costs and continue to “pioneer this industry and show our state what the people want.”
Agents seized 17 bottles of CBD oil, 14 bottles of CBD gummies, 69 glass jars of CBD Shatter, a box of CBD mints and a handgun from DeYoung’s vehicle, they said.
They then seized another handgun, over 1,800 capsules containing CBD/THC; honey containing CBD/THC; mints containing CBD/THC; dog treats containing CBD/THC; about 37,000 gross grams of CBD; less than 1 gross gram of marijuana; over 900 gross grams of CBD/THC edibles and over 150 gross grams of CBD/THC vapes or Shatter from DeYoung’s Johnston Street storefront.
Garber also said DeYoung was selling items outside of the business. He would not clarify what these items were and did not comment on the gram of marijuana seized at DeYoung’s business.
"If you’re going to do that openly then you should expect some law enforcement interaction at some point," he said.
DeYoung said before his store opened he knew he might have trouble with law enforcement, but believed his approach was within the boundaries of the law. He said he intended to provide lab reports for his products and ensure they were triple tested for THC concentrations above 0.3 percent -- the federal limit.
"I'm following all the rules. I'm the most transparent cannabis guy in Louisiana — I guarantee it — and at the end of the day no one knows cannabis like Cajun Cannabis," DeYoung said.
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Information from The Advocate reporters Dan Boudreaux and Sam Karlin was used in this report.
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