The Center Square
Louisiana officials hope the federal government will approve the state’s industrial hemp program by Jan. 1 so they can begin issuing licenses.
If all goes according to plan, Louisiana farmers will begin planting the new crop this spring.
Though the federal government is not expected to issue its rules until next month, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry has crafted the basic framework based on what they expect the feds will want.
“Almost all states are following a similar pathway,” LDAF Commissioner Mike Strain said Monday to a legislative agriculture committee. “I know there’s a full-court press [by the federal government] to get this done.”
Louisiana lawmakers legalized industrial hemp this year in hopes of establishing a new cash crop for the state’s farmers. Hemp is derived from the same plant species as marijuana but has very low levels of THC, which is what gets marijuana users high, and can be used in a wide variety of products such as rope, clothing, plastics and fuels.
The 2018 federal farm bill excludes hemp from the list of dangerous controlled substances and allows states to set up hemp-farming programs. LDAF will license growers, track acreage, inspect crops and potentially seize and destroy plants with too much THC.
Strain said crops will be limited to having about 0.3 percent THC, though he hopes the federal government will allow up to 0.349 percent to give growers a little “wiggle room.” He said his department would work with farmers whose crop has slightly too much THC, though growers who are found to be deliberately trying to skirt the rules could be referred for criminal prosecution.
Strain said he expected between 100 and 200 growers will be interested and expects them to plant between 60,000 and 80,000 acres or more. Licensees will have to pass a criminal background check.
Seeds will need to be certified by the state or a credible third-party agency. Strain said he wants to protect the farmers from buying faulty seeds and ensure invasive species don’t hitchhike on the hemp program.
State Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, expressed confidence LDAF will carefully regulate the program.
“If we have bad players, we could all be embarrassed by this,” Thompson said.
The Joint Agriculture Committee lacked a quorum to formally approve the state’s program framework, but members urged Strain to keep moving forward with an eye toward legislative approval later this year.