Could hemp become the next big crop?

John Dupont
Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales

Legislation signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards could bring a new cash crop to farmers throughout the state.

House Bill 491, authored by state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, will legalize the growth of industrial hemp, pursuant to the requirements of the Federal Farm Bill of 2018.

Hemp is related to marijuana but cannot make a person high. Instead, it poses a wide variety of practical uses.

It is used in the manufacturing of paper, textiles, plastics, fuel and food, among other things. It can also be used for house mold retardation, insect repellants, and fire retardants.

The variety of uses could make hemp a cash crop in the same guise as sugar, soybeans and corn, Schexnayder said.

"The bill in itself could also be a job creator within 50 years," he said. "Most hemp products are imported, but if we switch that it could become a huge investment."

Similar legislation failed to gain approval from state legislators in Mississippi and Texas, while the Arkansas bill is more restrictive, which opens the door for Louisiana to potentially capitalize on the crop.

State Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, also believes it could trigger a boon for farmers throughout the West bank parishes and most of the state.

"Farmers are looking for new potential crops, and I think this can be a big game changer for them if they can find a place to go in terms of who will buy from them or who's going to handle it once they pull it out the ground," he said. "The return investment is unbelievable.

"This could be the next sugar . . . maybe greater," Ward said.

State Rep. Jeremy Lacombe, R-New Roads, also sees potential in hemp crops for the region and state.

"Having the ability to add a new agricultural crop that our farmers could possibly use is huge," he said. "We're in such the infancy stage, but hemp itself offers a unique opportunity as an agriculture project for clothing, threads, commercial projects for CBD oil."

The legislation goes before Congress next year. Economists foresee a $23 billion windfall from growth of hemp.

"If approved, farmers could start purchasing seeds and growing hemp," Schexnayder said. "There's no reason Louisiana should not get a share of that kind of revenue."

The bill authorizes the sale of hemp-derived CBD products with a THC concentration of less than 0.3 percent.

The law prohibits the manufacturing or sale of hemp or CBD for inhalation and for use in alcoholic beverages. Food products and beverages containing CBD or hemp are also banned under the new law until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the product as a food additive.

CBD products manufactured, distributed, imported, or sold for use in the state are required to be produced from hemp grown in accordance with the state plan approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and must be labeled in accordance with the State Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Law.

Product labels must receive approval from the Louisiana Department of Health and meet all registration requirements.