hemp bill

A proposal to legalize the growth of hemp in Louisiana cleared a key hurdle Tuesday, but not before lawmakers added a long list of regulations and conditions to the industry and the sale of popular CBD products that are already widely available.

State Sen. Francis Thompson, a self-described skeptic of hemp and CBD products and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, tacked an extensive list of amendments onto the bill before the committee cleared the legislation on a 5-2 vote.

The measure involves a “tremendous amount” of regulations, said Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, a supporter of the effort. State Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, is carrying House Bill 491 and says he thinks it will be another tool for the state’s farmers.

The measure moves next to the full Senate. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he is supportive of legislation to regulate the growth of hemp in Louisiana. 

Thompson said during a lengthy committee hearing Tuesday he is hesitant to support a bill that allows for the sale of CBD products, which he recently compared to Hadacol, a product sold in the 1940s that contained 12% alcohol and was marketed as medicine. 

But after working on the six pages of amendments that were adopted, Thompson said he was willing to back the proposal as long as CBD products would not be sold unless the federal government approved them. He also said he trusted Strain's ability to prevent "shenanigans" with the hemp industry. 

"We feel like we're going to be able to oversee this very closely," said Thompson, D-Delhi.  

The regulations also caused consternation from some of the committee members. State Sen. John Smith, R-Leesville, questioned whether lawmakers would have to spend the next 15 years tweaking the legislation. 

"This just seems to me that we have absolutely overregulated in the name of good government, and it’ll never work," Smith said. 

State Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, warned that people who want to buy or sell CBD products now will be "surprised" by the bill. The legislation allows the sale of CBD products under a strict set of circumstances. 

The committee ultimately approved the bill after discussion about the state's farmers potentially tapping into the growing hemp industry, which Strain pegged at about $1 billion — of which Louisiana currently gets zero. 

"When our farmers are having a down year, they’ll be able to grow a crop that will be successful," Schexnayder said. 

The 2018 farm bill outlined a process for states to grow hemp, and many states already allow farmers to grow the crop. Hemp comes from the Cannabis sativa species of plant, but unlike marijuana, does not have enough THC to get people high. Its uses include industrial products and increasingly popular CBD oils that are already sold throughout Louisiana.

Sales of CBD products have come under increasing scrutiny in recent months, culminating in the high-profile arrest of a CBD seller in Lafayette last month.

Schexnayder’s bill, if passed into law, would only allow the sale of CBD products that follow federal rules that have not yet been written, meet strict labeling requirements, are registered with the state and meet several other rules.

Currently, CBD products are sold throughout Louisiana despite some state officials, including Strain, dubbing them illegal. The sellers of those products would need to meet a lengthy list of requirements under the legislation to continue selling legally.

The growth of hemp under the legislation would be tightly regulated by Strain, who said the rules are required to comply with the federal government. He said if the bill passes, hemp could potentially be grown in Louisiana starting next year.

Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.