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State Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, right, and Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, talk with Board of Regents Chairman Marty Chabert moments after state  Senate approved legislation to legalize the growing of legalized hemp in Louisiana on Saturday, June 1, 2019.

The Louisiana Senate Saturday approved heavily amended legislation that would legalize the growing of industrial hemp, a cousin of marijuana used to make several products.

The Senate voted 34-2 for House Bill 491 by Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, which would legalize the production of hemp and regulate how businesses could sell CBD products in Louisiana.

Because of about 16 amendments, the legislation returns to the House for consideration of the changes, which is expected to agree as Schexnayder negotiated the alterations. The session ends Thursday.

If passed, the legislation would go to the governor’s desk. If Gov. John Bel Edwards signs the bill, the state would then have to present a regulatory plan to the federal government for its consent.

Hemp – and its byproduct, CBD – comes from the Cannabis sativa species of plant, but unlike marijuana, does not have enough THC to get people high. Hemp is used in textiles, fuels and other products. CBD is used in oils, soaps and lotions.

“This is not marijuana. This is industrial hemp,” said state Sen. Bret Allain, the Franklin Republican handling the House-passed legislation on the Senate floor.

“Hemp is a distant cousin to marijuana, but it is not marijuana,” he said.

Hemp’s family ties underlay much of the opposition to the legislation during its long slog through the legislative process.

Allain argued the bill would allow Louisiana farmers to join an industry growing nationally since the 2018 federal Farm Bill outlined a process for states to produce industrial hemp, which had been listed as a controlled substance.

Allain pointed out that the price of soybeans and other agricultural products have been dropping and by joining 30 other states that already have adopted a hemp program, Louisiana farmers could add another money-making crop.

State Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, was one of the more vocal opponents earlier in the session.

But House Bill 491 was amended extensively in Thompson’s Senate Agriculture committee. Thompson said the changes ensured that hemp growing would be tightly regulated and would allow farmers to take advantage of the new market.

"I'm hopeful the farmers will reap great benefits," Thompson said.

If finally passed, the measure also would detail how stores could sell CBD products, following federal rules that have not yet been written, meet strict labeling requirements, are registered with the state and meet several other rules.

The federal government allows states to set up their own regulation of the growing of industrial hemp and its products, like CBD oils. Absent state regulation, the federal government would come in to handle the issue.

The state regulations, however, must be approved by the federal government. Even if HB491 is passed by the House and signed into law next week, as now expected, two years may pass before the hemp can be grown and CBD products can be legally available, Thompson said.


Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.