Louisiana Rep. from Vidalia says regulatory oversight regarding hemp products ‘very bad for small businesses’

Published 2:49 pm Monday, March 13, 2023

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VIDALIA, La. — Rep. C. Travis Johnson, D-Vidalia, said conflicting regulations about the sale of hemp products could put small business owners in his district at risk of bankruptcy.

The House Health and Welfare Committee has met on two separate occasions in the past month and a half concerning a regulatory oversight on the approval of hemp products by the Louisiana Department of Health — which has approved at least 230 hemp products that should be illegal according to Louisiana law.

These discussions have put numerous distributors in a state of unease.

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“Companies have to submit their products to LDH for approval and only once they’re approved can wholesale companies distribute those to stores across Louisiana,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of confusion where the products were approved by one department and now another department is saying that it’s illegal.”

The law limits the amount of THC to 8 milligrams per serving for products like cookies, gummies, and other items. However, LDH has approved hundreds of products that stack multiple servings into a single package, something Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez, said violates the law.

“If we followed those guidelines, I don’t think we would have this issue today,” Schexnayder said. He noted that the changes could impact as many as 3,000 hemp businesses, another 3,000 retailers and about 70 farmers in the industry statewide.

Johnson said the issue raises fear among three to four small businesses across his district that stand to lose revenue from previously purchased products they can’t sell and could risk bankruptcy because of the state’s error.

“The law was never meant for that. It’s very bad for small businesses,” Johnson said, adding that he spoke up during hearings because of the potential harm to small business owners.

His opinion is that as long as products are not a public hazard, they should continue to be sold.

“For me, it’s not about CBD. It’s about making sure that we respect small businesses,” he said. “The department approved it, so now we’ve got to find a way to make those companies whole. … We don’t know what the resolution is yet.”

Johnson added he has heard about individuals who are elderly, have cancer, high anxiety or other medical issues who can’t afford medical cannabis or over-the-counter drugs and turn to CBD products for relief.

Those stories “make me heartfelt to it,” Johnson said. “I support small businesses and making sure their consumers have access to it.”

Numerous business leaders have testified regarding how the proposed rules would impact both their companies and the public.

Jason Garsee, owner of Str8W8 Cannabis in Monroe and president of the Gulf South Hemp Association told reporters that he is not against the regulation of hemp.

“We want regulation,” he said, however, he does have a with certain departments trying to “knock the kneecaps” from under entrepreneurs and business owners in the state.

“We’ve been made out to be drug dealers. Our stores are being raided and we get no response from LDH,” Garsee told Daily Advertiser. “This is the kind of stuff our industry is dealing with.”

Crystal Grayson, owner of Zorrillo Cannabis Company, spoke of the impact it would have on customers.

“I have customers coming to us daily, crying in relief because it has changed their life,” he said, “and by regressing backward and not working together, like we need to, it’s only going to hurt the public.”