Crescent Canna (copy)

Hemp-derived cannabis products that contain Delta-9 THC and CBD.?

Though recreational marijuana is technically illegal in Louisiana, people who want to get high outside the state’s highly regulated medical program have had THC-infused gummies, tinctures and soft drinks at their disposal since lawmakers expanded the industry starting five years ago.?

Those products could soon disappear under a bill pushed by Republicans in the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 237, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport, stems partly from backlash over the sharp rise in mind-altering THC products that arose from legislation backed over several years by former House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, beginning in 2019.

Pressly’s bill aims to “completely eliminate” Louisiana’s consumable hemp industry, seeking to outlaw beverages and snacks that contain any quantities of THC, Pressly said. Companies are currently allowed to sell products containing up to 8 mg of THC per serving, 3 mg above the quantity that makes infrequent users feel high, according to the cannabis education site Leafly.

“I’ve got real concerns over the availability of THC products in gas stations, in convenience stores,” Pressly said. He added that he's particularly worried about the products ending up in the hands of children through stores that are lightly regulated.

Schexnayder, the former speaker, said the bill would put hundreds of companies in jeopardy and potentially leave thousands of workers without jobs.?

“You go and do something like this, you’re shutting down a complete job-making experience that didn’t cost the taxpayers anything,” he said Tuesday.

Though he recently started consulting for a firm that represents convenience stores, Schexnayder added that he has no financial stake in the hemp industry and that he just “feels for the people who invested a lot of money” under the new laws.

Schexnayder, who left office last year, and other lawmakers championed laws expanding the hemp industry as a way to help Louisiana farmers cash in on a new market opened up by the 2018 federal Farm Bill. Retail sales exploded as the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control last year counted nearly 3,000 retailers licensed to sell the products in Louisiana.?

But hemp products’ success in the past few years angered stakeholders in the medical marijuana industry, who play by a stricter set of rules than those dealing in hemp products. And lawmakers started trying to rein in the industry last year after some accused Schexnayder of misrepresenting how potent the products hitting shelves under his legislation would be.

Some have cited a lack of regulation over the burgeoning industry.

"On the enforcement side, we have real challenges," Pressly said, citing a small number of enforcement staff at the state's Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

Schexnayder has contended that the problem wasn’t with his legislation, but with the challenges of enforcing regulations on a nascent industry that provides products viewed by some as illicit.

All the bills proposed last year that sought to more heavily regulate the industry died, spelling a major victory for upstart hemp producers. Schexnayder had his own bill that would take more modest steps than some of his peers' to rein in the program while keeping it alive and allowing products with THC in them to be sold. But amid squabbles with other Republicans, he ultimately didn't bring his bill to the House floor.

Those who stand to lose business under the legislation include Joe Gerrity, CEO of New Orleans-based Crescent Canna, a company that creates and distributes hemp-derived THC and CBD products, including the popular Crescent 9 THC seltzer.

“To pull the rug out from us, and all the other small businesses, the retailers... you would see hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses shut down, and definitely thousands of jobs lost in Louisiana,” Gerrity said.

Pressly's SB 237 passed the Senate Agriculture Committee last month and now heads to the full Senate, where it is expected to be considered within weeks.?

James Finn covers state politics in Baton Rouge for The Advocate | The Times-Picayune. Email him at?jfinn@theadvocate.com?or follow him on Twitter?@rjamesfinn.

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