John Kay

John Kay

Louisiana lawmakers are taking a stab at authorizing and setting standards for a state-based hemp industry. But their first pass at it needs a lot of work.

While lawmakers should be commended for confronting this difficult task, the legislation now being considered in Baton Rouge is too restrictive and would do nothing to relieve the confusion among sellers and users about the legality of one of the most popular byproducts of hemp, cannabidiol (CBD).

Hemp is a cousin of the marijuana plant. Unlike its relative, hemp contains virtually no THC (0.03 percent or less) — the component in marijuana that gets you high. CBD is a non-psychoactive product of hemp, usually sold as an oil. Many Louisianans have used CBD for a variety of medical purposes and point to its low risk for addiction.

At a time when Louisianans are rightly concerned about the opioid epidemic, it’s comforting to know that a World Health Organization report concluded that CBD “exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse of dependence potential.” And no matter where you stand on the legalization of marijuana, we should recognize that talking about ending prohibitions on hemp as well as CBD are a very different conversation, given what we know about their composition.

Legal Louisiana hemp farming? Proposal to legalize plant's growth passes first hurdle

Supporters of CBD also point to a growing body of evidence to suggest it could help those with chronic pain and inflammation. A study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine showed adults with chronic pain who were treated with CBD were more likely to experience a “clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms.” Studies have also shown it may help individuals with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and anxiety.

Researchers will have to continue to investigate CBD to evaluate the strength of those claims, but in the meantime, there’s little reason to prohibit a substance with no known addiction risk that may prove to carry health benefits.

While House Bill 491 would legalize hemp, the bill would still ban the production, sale and use of CBD — legal in 17 states, including two of the three states bordering Louisiana.

That means we would continue under a regime in which the Board of Pharmacy and the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control have sewn confusion by effectively ordering pharmacies to cease selling CBD.

Instead of continuing the confusion and taking timid steps in the right direction, our lawmakers should act boldly. There’s no compelling reason Louisianans shouldn’t be able to consume a product from a plant that can’t get you high and contains only trace amounts of THC within percentages legal under federal law.

There’s also no justification for the restrictions the legislation would place on adults trying to enter what would, under the bill, be a legal industry.

The measure would erect multiple barriers for people with criminal records trying to restart their lives, prohibiting anyone convicted of a drug-related misdemeanor in the past 10 years from working in the legal hemp business.

That’s the opposite of how our criminal justice system should operate. Instead of narrowing the path to employment for individuals who are trying to move on from their past mistakes, the state should dispense with pointless restrictions on how they can earn a living.

For everyone else, the bill would create a bureaucratic morass of licensing procedures, including annual renewals for anyone wanting to grow, process or deliver hemp. That would be particularly difficult for small businesses trying to enter or compete in a fast-growing industry. It’s also significantly stricter than federal law requires. Legislators should instead implement a one-time registration or permitting process without renewal requirements for those who remain legally compliant.

Our state legislators have come up with a good idea: legalize hemp and set standards for an industry that will create jobs and alleviate suffering. Now they need to get the details right.

John Kay is Louisiana state director of Americans for Prosperity.