ACA.cajuncannabis53.042119

Some of the CBD oils at Cajun Cannabis during their grand opening on Saturday, April 20, 2019 in Lafayette, La..

For years, Tim Hitt sold CBD products at Fiesta Nutrition Center, a health foods store he manages in north Louisiana, without issue. Not only did the authorities in the area not care he was selling CBD, he said, “they didn’t even know what it was.”

That has all changed. In recent months, the legal gray area in which CBD sellers operate in Louisiana has come under scrutiny by some state and local agencies, which contended the products--derived from hemp, a cousin of marijuana--are illegal. The Legislature then passed two laws that pave the way for the legal, and regulated, sale of CBD products, and allowing farmers to grow hemp.

On Monday, the CBD industry formally began a relationship with its new regulator. The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control started taking applications for temporary permits. Once awarded, starting likely next week, the permits will allow retailers to immediately begin selling the products.

“We know this is a very sensitive issue for a lot of the public and a lot of small businesses out there,” said Ernest Legier, deputy commissioner of the ATC. “We put this in place very quickly.”

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant, which many proponents say has health benefits. The compound does not get users high.

Hemp and marijuana are both from the Cannabis sativa species of plant, but are genetically distinct from one another. Hemp has no more than 0.3% THC--the same threshold that CBD products sold in Louisiana must meet to be considered legal. THC is the compound that gets users high when ingested.

Earlier this year, before the new laws passed, the alcohol and tobacco office started cracking down on the sale of CBD products. Although the federal farm bill allowed for the legal growth of hemp, the ATC said Louisiana law at the time made no distinction between hemp and marijuana. That meant the CBD products sold in vape stores, liquor stores and other places overseen by ATC were no longer allowed.

That move also led to confusion about the legality of CBD products, which are sold as tinctures, oils, lotions and even dog treats. The ATC did not have regulatory power over other types of stores that sold CBD products.

Now, the laws give the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control and the Louisiana Department of Health new authority over the CBD industry.

While retailers get temporary permits, both agencies are crafting their own rules for the industry. The health department is in charge of permitting manufacturers of CBD products and registering labels.

Legier said the ATC decided not to make sellers wait until the final rules are issued, which could take months.

“We know there’s existing inventory,” he said. “We’re going to allow the sale of existing CBD products as long as it conforms to the law.”

That means CBD products with more than 0.3% THC, as well as those sold in alcohol, food, inhalable forms, or marketed as dietary supplements are still not allowed. State law now prevents any CBD to be sold in food or beverages until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the product as a food additive.

Hitt on Monday was working to clarify with the ATC which of his CBD goods he can continue to sell. The words “dietary supplement”--no longer allowed by state law--appear on many of his products. A former law enforcement officer, Hitt lobbies for Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana and manages the health food store, and has a bombastic social media presence through which he has excoriated the state Legislature’s handling of hemp and CBD.

He called the new system for hemp and CBD “bureaucratic red tape,” and questioned why the state is “making us jump through fire hoops to sell a product we know is safe.”

Hitt lives in the state Senate district represented by Francis Thompson, the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a skeptic of hemp. Thompson, D-Delhi, early in the legislative session compared CBD to Hadacol, a product invented by former state lawmaker Dudley "Cousin Dud" Leblanc that contained 12% alcohol and was marketed as a medicine in the 1940s.

Asked by the north Louisiana TV station KNOE about the new hemp program, Thompson said recently, “there will be no hanky panky” with the new industry. 

“We will have no shenanigans or we’ll shut the whole program down,” he said.

Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which lobbied the Louisiana Legislature on the hemp bill this year, said the state's law is "among, if not the most restrictive hemp and CBD statute in the country." 

Miller pointed to a provision of the law that prohibits marketing products as dietary supplements, which could conflict with federal law. He said between the labeling requirements, regulatory agencies and prohibition on certain types of CBD products, the system has left the roundtable "disappointed and a bit confused." 

He said he's eager to meet with regulators to clear up confusion and get more direction on the issue. 

While the CBD regulations are created, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain has submitted a plan for allowing farmers to grow hemp in Louisiana to the governor and state attorney general. Once he gets approval from those two, as well as the Senate and House agriculture committees, he’ll submit the plan to the United States Department of Agriculture, which aims to have rules finalized for hemp growth by early next year.

“We’re trying to write (the plan) based on what we think their rules will say,” Strain said in an interview. “We’re going to try to expedite it as quickly as possible.”

Heather Carter, who sells CBD products through her local company Mountain Pure CBD, said she would like to get the CBD used in her products from Louisiana-grown hemp. But that appears unlikely, at least in the coming years, as farmers here must wait for officials to work out the details for the industry.

Carter said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the new system. She’s happy with how quickly ATC has moved on permitting sellers, and said the regulatory system could be worse.

“The next couple weeks will be the telltale signs when we see the retailers getting these temporary permits,” she said.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.