During an April 18 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, Louisiana State Senators Jay Morris and Stewart Cathey remarked that legalizing hemp products containing THC was not deliberate. According to The Daily Advertiser, during the meeting, Cathey stated that in the previous session, the Legislature inadvertently established a recreational THC market in Louisiana. He added that they did not intend to allow an unregulated psychoactive drug marketplace to be flooded throughout the state.
Senate Bill 219
On April 10, Cathey put forward Senate Bill 219, which was first discussed during the April 18 meeting. The bill suggests modifying the state law that permits a maximum of 8 mg of THC in a hemp product. Instead, it proposes reducing the limit to 2 mg of THC.
Morris elaborated that if the intention is to legalize recreational THC, it should be done transparently and candidly, which was not the case before. He added that the Legislature was informed that psychoactive substances would not be allowed. The committee approved the bill, which will now be presented before the Senate after the April 18 hearing.
As Cathey and Morris strive to modify the existing state law, advocates and entrepreneurs spoke about the adverse consequences that altering the law may bring.
Jason Garsee, the president of the Gulf South Hemp Association and owner of Str8W8 Cannabis, spoke out about how altering the existing law would adversely affect his business. Garsee mentioned that the bill would completely devastate the industry, and as a result, it would put people out of business in their towns, states, and districts. He expressed that it would lead to a significant loss in his investment and negatively impact his business.
John Ford Lafayette, the president of Black Farmers Hemp, expressed similar concerns, stating that it did not make sense and that they were attempting to develop an industry. Casey White, the owner of Pippi’s Purpose, indicated that they had invested their life savings in opening their storefronts. Blaine Jennings, the owner of Virgin Hemp Farms, referred to the bill as a direct assault on the thousands of business owners in the rapidly growing industry.
House Bill 605
House Bill 605 was also recently introduced by Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder to modify the existing hemp law. But to a different extent than Cathey’s proposal. Since federal legalization in 2018, Schexnayder has presented four hemp-related bills.
Schexnayder accused the Louisiana Health Department of mishandling the implementation of the hemp bills in March, stating that the Legislature’s intentions were clear.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor released the results of its audit of the Louisiana Department of Health on April 10. The “Oversight of consumable hemp products” report revealed that out of the 2,564 registered consumable hemp products approved by the DOH, 36 were prohibited. Moreover, 198 edible products exceeded the 8 mg THC limit, and several other examples showed non-compliance with state law.
Louisiana’s medical cannabis sector has thrived, but recreational cannabis remains illegal. However, the sale of cannabis flowers commenced in January 2022.
Gary Chambers, who was running for the Louisiana Senate, spoke out about the failed War on Drugs and its disproportionate impact on people of color while smoking a blunt in a campaign video in January 2022. In the video, he cited statistics indicating someone is arrested for marijuana every 37 seconds. Since 2010, state and local police have arrested more than 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws, accounting for over half of all drug-related arrests.
In his campaign video, Gary Chambers highlighted the racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests, stating that Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for such offenses than their white counterparts. He also noted that states spend $3.7 billion annually enforcing marijuana laws and that most of the people targeted by law enforcement are not dealers but individuals caught with small quantities of marijuana, similar to himself.
Cannabis Legalization in Louisiana
Despite the reluctance of the Legislature to legalize recreational cannabis, Louisiana has already established a medical cannabis program. Moreover, public opinion polls indicate that many Louisiana voters favor legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes.
According to a survey conducted by the University of New Orleans Research Center last year, 58% of registered voters in Louisiana expressed support for legalizing recreational marijuana. Meanwhile, 30% of respondents opposed it, and 12% did not have a clear stance.
In recent years, support for legalizing cannabis has increased in Louisiana. According to UNO polls, until 2021, most registered voters were against legalization. However, the trend shifted, with 54% opposing it in 2020 but 55% supporting it just one year later.
A survey conducted in 2021 by JMC Analytics discovered that nine districts, mainly in South Louisiana, where Trump had strong support, had significant backing for the legalization of cannabis. According to Marrero Democrat Representative Kyle Green, the 2021 survey by JMC Analytics aligns with what he has observed in his district. Green has brought a legalization bill before and has noticed that even some of his Republican Trump-supporting constituents favor legalization and use cannabis themselves.
However, public support for a policy does not guarantee it will be easy to pass.
The debate over the legalization of hemp products containing THC in Louisiana is currently ongoing, with advocates and entrepreneurs speaking out about the potential adverse consequences that modifying the existing state law may bring. On the one hand, state senators Jay Morris and Stewart Cathey are proposing to reduce the limit of THC in hemp products from 8 mg to 2 mg, citing their concerns about inadvertently establishing a recreational THC market in Louisiana. On the other hand, advocates and entrepreneurs are worried about the impact this may have on their businesses and the industry.
The introduction of House Bill 605 by Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, aimed at modifying the existing hemp law, adds another complexity to this debate. The recent audit by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor of the Louisiana Department of Health further highlights the need for clarity and transparency in implementing hemp bills. (Full Story)