A pattern is beginning to emerge in states eager to take advantage of the legal hemp product market, and small business owners are paying for it.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards isn't happy about the state of hemp in his home state. As first reported by The Advocate this past weekend, Governor Edwards and many Louisiana state legislators are promising a renewed crackdown on unregulated hemp-derived THC products that can cause a person to get "high."
Ironically, Edwards and Co. do not need to search very far for the cause of their consternation. In an attempt to bolster Louisiana's agricultural sector, the Governor and a majority of State House lawmakers may have inadvertently created a flourishing market of legal hemp-based THC products with potential intoxicating effects.
Hemp products are wildly popular among Louisianans and enjoy broad bipartisan political support. Likewise, Louisiana farmers have been eager to gain a strong foothold in the hemp market. As a result, they have aggressively lobbied lawmakers to lift restrictions on hemp-centric businesses to further their aims.
One of those legislators is Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder. He has very close ties to the agricultural industry in Louisiana. Because of that intimate connection, he was the lead sponsor of legislation that appears to have opened the veritable floodgates of those hemp-derived THC products causing such political tumult for Governor Edwards.
Edwards, along with many influential state lawmakers, is vehemently opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana in Louisiana and is understandably frustrated and probably a little embarrassed by the current state of affairs regarding the hemp and hemp-derived products industry proliferating in the Bayou State.
In a recent interview, he expressed his sentiments, saying, "I'm not one who favors legalizing marijuana, and I don't want something that…has a THC content that is effectively the same thing. You're going to see more enforcement, but you are also going to see clarification of what the law is."
"I'm not one who favors legalizing marijuana, and I don't want something that…has a THC content that is effectively the same thing. You're going to see more enforcement, but you are also going to see clarification of what the law is."
- Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards
The Louisiana Governor is not alone in his frustration over the potential "gotchas" associated with the legal hemp market in the United States. When the Farm Bill of 2018 removed hemp and all hemp-derived products from the Controlled Substances List (CSA), most politicians had no idea what hemp was or, more importantly, its potential capability.
According to the bill, hemp is any part of the cannabis sativa plant containing less than 0.3% delta-9 THC. Any portions containing more than that amount are deemed to be marijuana and are still illegal, according to the CSA. Delta-9 THC is the most well-known cannabinoid produced by the cannabis plant. It creates the "high" most individuals associate with marijuana.
This issue is so complex and frustrating because most people, including politicians, do not understand the science and subsequent legal interpretations associated with legal hemp. If delta-9 THC is derived from the part of the plant legally defined as hemp, then any products containing that hemp-derived delta-9 THC are legal under the Farm Bill of 2018.
Furthermore, any of the more than 100 cannabinoids derived from the hemp plant, such as the controversial delta-8 THC isomer, are also entirely legal to produce and sell under the bill. Because they are largely unregulated, these products are typically cheaper and easier to purchase than medical marijuana, which is heavily regulated in Louisiana. This current state of affairs is the quandary facing Governor Edwards and his fellow Louisiana legislators.
Other states, such as Minnesota, faced this exact same issue this past summer when legislators passed similar legislation legalizing low-dose THC beverages and edible products. The problem with that law and similar legislation passed in Louisiana is that the products were already legal due to the Farm Bill of 2018.
Essentially, all these new laws did was draw more attention to product offerings that have been legal to sell and purchase since the Farm Bill's passage. Consequently, because of this lack of knowledge and the political toxicity associated with legalizing marijuana, many states are woefully unprepared to fully grasp the real issues and create meaningful legislation to address health and safety concerns appropriately.
Also lost in this maelstrom of ill-advised legislation and "blind leading the blind" enforcement is the small hemp-based business owner doing all the right things and getting punished for it because of political panic and knee-jerk reactions.
The Governor has said that he, Schexnayder and other state officials will begin meeting regularly to decide the next steps necessary to address and tighten up the THC market. However, the proper solution, as in the Minnesota case, may lie in passing additional laws to help create a uniform licensing structure in the state and implement a more robust oversight system.
Regardless of the actions taken by Governor Edwards, it is clear that the burgeoning legal hemp industry is going through a rough patch of growth in his state and many others trying to leverage the economic promise of a truly unique and potentially lucrative agricultural and end-product industry. How leaders like Edwards and Governor Tim Walz (D) in Minnesota handle these growing pains will go a long way in determining hemp's ultimate success and sustainability in America.