Ag Commish Candidate Wants To Grow Opium Plants – At Angola

Yep. You read that one correctly.

Jamie LaBranche, who has the perfect job for his name at present (he’s a licensed arborist), is the Democrat candidate running against incumbent Republican Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, and he told 1012 Corridor Magazine’s Jeremy Alford that he thinks Louisiana should get into the “medical agriculture” business.

LaBranche, a Democrat from LaPlace, is running for agriculture commissioner as well. A self-proclaimed “Cajun,” he said he grew up farming fruits and vegetables on family land before obtaining horticulture and arboriculture licenses from the state.

He said his top goal as commissioner would be implementing a medical agriculture program. “Under my plan, Louisiana’s agriculture industry will create thousands of jobs and bring in billions of dollars in new revenue,” LaBranche said. “Under my plan, Louisiana will be to the pharmaceutical industry as to what Silicon Valley is to the technological industry.”

The plan involves a partnership with the private sector to cultivate a wide variety of medical plants, like poppy, his cornerstone crop in the plan. The opium poppy, or Papaver Somniferum, is big business around the world and is regulated by international agencies. It’s a popular source for drugs like codeine, heroin and morphine.

It would also be a global marketplace for a player like Louisiana — according to the International Narcotics Control Board, opiate overproduction in foreign countries since 2000 “could cover demand for two years.”

LaBranche said it’s still ripe for investment. “Unfortunately there is not a single industry that produces this plant for market of its medical uses in the United States,” LaBranche said. “The United States relies solely on foreign traders for its medical supply derived from the poppy. It is astounding to know that the two Nations that supplies the U.S. with this product that is so critical to our well being are China and Afghanistan — two countries that are hell bent on destroying us as a nation.”

His plan calls for subjugating 7,000 acres of land at Angola State Penitentiary to plant and cultivate the poppy plant.

These would be the same poppy plants that the U.S. Army is attempting to limit the cultivation of in Afghanistan. LaBranche wants to have the prisoners at Angola, the vast majority of whom are where they are because of the effects of narcotic use, tend to the poppy fields.

We don’t really have a verdict on the concept of medical agriculture as it pertains to Louisiana public policy. We can say that it takes a Democrat to think it’s the government’s job to produce such an industry by its own actions.

But the idea that you’d expose Angola inmates to poppy plants is mind-bendingly stupid. What’s next? Free heroin?

LaBranche isn’t considered a real threat to Strain’s re-election. It’s doubtful his idea to have Angola inmates growing poppies as though the place was Helmand Province is going to get him a lot of traction.

Strain was quoted in the same article with a rather interesting observation, however…

If re-elected Strain said he would begin to view his department’s role on more of a global scale. He noted an “alarming statistic” released by the United Nations Population Division. It projects that the global population could reach 9.3 billion by mid-century and rise to 10.1 billion by 2100. “We must feed, clothe, house and provide energy worldwide to meet this growing demand and this will result in a tremendous economic impact to all of America,” Strain said.

In furthering his point, he recalled the 1928 presidential campaign, in which the Republican National Committee ran a newspaper ad promising that, if elected, Herbert Hoover would “put a chicken in every pot.” The need, he said, still remains, but the answer to the dilemma needs to be updated. “Considering the average age of the Louisiana farmer is 57 and aging, our goal now is to ‘put a farmer in every field’ and continue to grow our agricultural economy,” Strain said.

If the 57-year old figure is indeed accurate then perhaps Strain might consider promoting, in his second term, a plan to entice younger Louisianans to take up agriculture. Part of that plan might well involve a revamp proposal of property taxes and homestead exemptions so as to reduce tax burdens on larger landholders and thus encourage the purchase of land for agricultural purposes.

In any event, the state’s aging agricultural sector certainly does offer an opportunity for younger people to access it with some success. And with agriculture still the largest industry in the state it’s not an option for Louisiana’s farmers to grow old and die out. It’s time for some good ideas to promote renewal in Louisiana agriculture.

But getting those inmates at Angola involved in growing poppy plants sure isn’t one of them.

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