BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Senate agreed Saturday to legalize hemp production and create regulations for businesses selling CBD products around the state.
Senators voted 34-2 for the measure by Gonzales Republican Rep. Clay Schexnayder, which supporters said would help farmers diversify their crops and end regulatory confusion about products that contain CBD.
Hemp and CBD are in the cannabis family but contain only traces of the THC chemical compound that causes a high for marijuana users. Hemp is used in textiles, fuels and other products, while CBD is used in oils and lotions that some believe are beneficial to their health.
„Every single farmer that I’ve been in contact with is for this bill,” said Sen. Norby Chabert, a Houma Republican.
The Farm Bill approved by Congress last year legalized industrial hemp by removing it from the list of federally controlled substances. It gives states the opportunity to develop a hemp-growing program, if the U.S. Agriculture Department approves it.
Sen. Bret Allain said more than 30 states already have adopted hemp programs. He described hemp as a billion-dollar industry in the United States.
„Let me be real clear. This is not marijuana. This is industrial hemp, a recognized agricultural commodity,” said Allain, a Franklin Republican. „It is another commodity that our farmers can grow and make money with.”
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, who helped craft the legislation, would have broad regulatory authority over testing, enforcement and regulation of hemp production. Strain’s department would test the crops and could randomly inspect the operations, to ensure the hemp contains only traces of THC. Growing hemp for individual use would be prohibited.
„This is one of the most restrictive programs in the country,” Allain said.
Schexnayder’s proposal would require a hemp growing and production regulatory plan be submitted to the USDA by Nov. 1.
The legislation also outlines a process for selling CBD products, prohibiting sales of beverages or food containing CBD unless the FDA approves the substance for such use. CBD productions are a gray area under current Louisiana law, with state and local officials disagreeing over whether CBD products and sales are illegal.
„This will make it a lot easier for consumers to get,” said Republican Sen. Fred Mills, from Parks.
Republican Sen. Jack Donahue, from Mandeville, said his sister brought him CBD oil that was helpful after a knee operation, but he suggested such sales were clouded in unnecessary uncertainty.
„Everybody will have an opportunity to use something that helps them,” Donahue said.
Sen. Francis Thompson, a Democrat from Delhi, had been skeptical about the bill, but he said his concerns lessened with the lengthy restrictions and rules outlined in the proposal.
„I’m a little hesitant, but I’m hopeful the farmers will reap great benefits, and businesses around the state,” Thompson said.
The House-backed legislation was heavily rewritten in the Senate and must return to the House for consideration of the changes before reaching final passage. The legislative session must end Thursday.
Story by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press