A proposal to legalize the growth of hemp in Louisiana made it through the first phase of the legislative process Thursday, with the state agriculture commissioner ushering through a bill that would create a tightly-controlled program for farmers.
State Rep. Clay Schexnayder’s bill would create a system for farmers to grow hemp in line with the federal farm bill passed last year, though it would not get off the ground until federal regulators develop rules, likely sometime next year.
If passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor, the proposal could lead to as many as 1,000 farmers signing up to grow hemp, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain has said previously.
“This is just a beginning. We could have 200 farmers, we could have 500, we could have 50,” Strain said. “We simply don’t know because this is all new.”
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Like marijuana, hemp comes from the Cannabis sativa plant, but hemp does not have large quantities of THC, the component of marijuana that gets users high.
Instead, Strain said the “industrial hemp” legalized by the bill would be used for things like textiles, plastics, fuels, apparel, shoes and mulch, among other things.
The bill, HB491, involves a large number of regulations for the farmers who would ultimately grow hemp. Strain’s office would have to license each farmer, closely track their acreage, make reports to the federal government and seize and destroy plants that have too much THC. It would also involve a testing process for hemp plants.
Strain said the state must follow the federal government’s lead, which is where many of the rules in the bill come from.
It also would bar anyone who had been convicted of a felony or drug-related misdemeanor in the past 10 years from obtaining a license to grow hemp. Barring those with a felony was an idea that came from the federal government, while the misdemeanor prohibition came from a similar provision in Kentucky.
State Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, questioned why the state should bar people with a misdemeanor drug offense from growing hemp, and Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, said he would work with her on possibly changing that provision.
“I just think misdemeanor, 10 years is a little much,” she said.
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