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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.

Louisiana lawmakers have agreed to legalize the growth of hemp and allow the sale of some CBD products, sending two pieces of legislation to the governor’s desk that would lay out a highly-regulated program in line with the federal farm bill.

State Rep. Clay Schexnayder’s House Bill 491, which was heavily rewritten in the Senate, won final approval from the House Monday. The bill lays out a tightly-regulated program for growing hemp, with oversight from the state Agriculture Department.

Another bill by Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, would exempt hemp grown in line with federal regulations from the legal definition of marijuana and defines the drug. House Bill 138 is headed to the governor’s desk.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has voiced support for allowing and regulating the growth of hemp.

Hemp comes from the same species of plant, Cannabis Sativa, as marijuana. Unlike marijuana, however, hemp does not have enough THC to get users high. Instead, it is used in a wide range of industrial products, textiles, fuels and other products. Producers also extract Cannabidiol, or CBD, from hemp, infusing the chemical with oils, tinctures, lotions, food products and others.

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Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain would have broad regulatory powers over the hemp program, creating rules, handling permits and destroying crops that don’t meet THC thresholds. Strain has said the program will be tightly-regulated and in line with federal rules.

Supporters have touted the legislation as a potential boon to Louisiana farmers.

“When our farmers are having a down year, they’ll be able to grow a crop that will be successful," Schexnayder said in a recent hearing on the bill.

The sale of CBD products has spread in Louisiana in recent years, but in a legal gray area. State agencies have disagreed on whether CBD products, which don’t get users high, are legally distinguishable from marijuana. Supporters have said CBD has health benefits, and while the products have become increasingly available to consumers, some state agencies have cracked down on their sale.

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.

Connick’s bill distinguishes CBD and marijuana, and Schexnayder’s bill lays out a list of regulations for selling CBD products. The products would be regulated by the Louisiana Department of Health and Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control under the bill.

Schexnayder’s bill was rewritten multiple times in the Senate.

The 2018 federal farm bill laid out a process for states to grow hemp, and Louisiana is expected to submit a plan to the USDA by November if the governor signs off on the proposal.

The legislation bans selling CBD in beverages unless the Food and Drug Administration approves of it as a food additive, and also prohibits CBD products marketed as dietary supplements. CBD products would have to come from hemp grown under a state program outlined by either the 2014 or 2018 farm bill and meet certain labeling requirements.

Penalties for processing or selling CBD products that don’t meet the requirements in the rule would take effect Jan. 1, 2020. Currently, CBD products are sold throughout Louisiana despite some state officials, including Strain, dubbing them illegal.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.