Could Louisiana’s new cash crop be hemp? Maybe…

According to Rep. Clay Schexnayder, the Gonzales Republican who authored House Bill 491, industrial hemp could boost the state’s economy and give farmers “another tool in their belt.”

The House Agricultural Committee advanced his bill this week without objection.

“Industrial hemp is an alternative specialty high value crop with the potential to create new industries and enhance economic development for Louisiana,” Schexnayder said in a press release.

Hemp is a member of the cannabis plant family that contains only traces of the THC chemical compound that causes marijuana users to get high. It is already available in a wide variety of products, including rope, clothing, plastics and fuels. Hemp farming programs were authorized under the 2018 federal Farm Bill.

“The idea is to grow and take advantage of a crop we haven’t been growing since 1938,” Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, told the Associated Press, who helped craft the legislation.

Under Schexnayder’s bill, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture would license growers, track acreage, inspect crops, and potentially seize and destroy plants with too much THC, the substance that makes marijuana smokers high.

The Agricultural Chemistry and Seed Commission would also establish seed criteria, develop sampling and testing procedures, and hold hearings on possible violations and penalties.

The USDA has not yet developed specific rules to govern the industry.

If passed and signed into law, Louisiana farmers could start growing hemp next year.

According to Curbed New Orleans, a local farmer, Jacob of Breathing Waters, said legalizing hemp production would allow him to diversify his farm’s income streams and invest in additional farmland.

“There are thousands of other uses for hemp besides CBD, from building materials and animal feed to cloth,” Jacob said. “You can create textiles out of hemp, which requires a lot less pesticides, water and bleach than cotton. It is a way more environmentally friendly product.”

He added that “Hempcrete is a sustainable building material you can use instead of fiberglass or plastic. It makes sense to build a house of that, and it’s breathable and perfect for the humid environment we live in.”

A Louisiana local builder, Kayne LaGraize of LaGraize Builders, told Curbed that hemp offers an affordable, sustainable alternative to lumber, which has skyrocketed in price and dropped in quality.

Growing hemp for individual use would be prohibited under the bill.

The U.S. Agriculture Department would need to approve the program if it becomes approved in Louisiana.

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