By Joe Curtis
A 1992 graduate of Wisner High School has hopes of bringing a new industry to Franklin Parish and Louisiana farmers.
Andra Johnson, Ph.D., Southern University Ag Center Vice Chancellor for Research, is a member of the Louisiana Industrial Hemp Alliance (LIHA). The group hopes to influence state legislation to allow Louisiana’s farmers and business owners to involve themselves in the commercial end of Industrial Hemp.
The mission of the organization is to aid in the acceptance of the free marketing of Industrial Hemp as an agricultural crop in Louisiana, said Arthur Walker, Chair of the LIHA. The organization is dedicated to a free market of Industrial Hemp, Low-THC varieties of Cannabis and to change current laws to allow Louisiana farmers to grow this crop and Louisiana producers to process this crop on a commercial side.
The LIHA will have a difficult time swaying the opinions of the legislation in the regular session in April.
Louisiana Senator Francis Thompson of Delhi and chairman of the Senate agriculture committee has spoken out against Industrial Hemp.
“A lot of people are very concerned about (LIHA’s) purpose,” Thompson said. “I’m suspicious of this and need to see the facts. (LIHA) is going to do something in a month when the session begins and we will see what cards they hold in their hands.”
Walker explains the make up of Industrial Hemp.
“Industrial Hemp has been around for millennia,” said Walker. “It is a grain in the family of Cannabis sativa L. The difference between it and other versions of the cannabis plant is in the tetrahydrocfannabinol (THC) levels. It has a level of .3 percent and below. Marijuana, its cousin, has THC levels of five and above.”
THC is the psychotropic component of the plant that can cause individuals to experience a “high.”
The 2018 Farm Bill officially removed Industrial Hemp from the schedule I classification, and the commodity is now classified in the same group with corn, sugarcane and rice.
“It was a federal law against growing hemp, and it was illegal to grow it in all states,” Thompson said. “Because of the Farm Bill, someone has to change the state law in order for it to be legal (in Louisiana).”
Before the passing the Farm Bill, it was illegal to grow in the United States, but, the purchase of imported raw materials to manufacture products from the plant was legal.
“Now farmers can get crop insurance and receive financing opportunities from the federal government to start growing Industrial Hemp,” said Walker. “The whole commodity designation and moving Industrial Hemp from the Department of Justice, where it was a schedule I drug, to the control of the Department of Agriculture is a game changer.”
As of the end of December, 2018, 40 states had passed legislation that allowed their farmers and business owners to get involved with Industrial Hemp. Louisiana is among the last 10 states to have no legislation for the commodity.
“With the passage of the Farm Bill, those 40 states that have passed legislation are now ready to go to commercialization, as long as their laws are modified to fit under the federal umbrella,” said Walker. “Louisiana has to have something established from ground zero.”
The Department of Agriculture is wanting each state to establish laws and regulations.
“We are trying to make sure Louisiana will be fair to the producers and the farmers,” Walker said. “We don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg by feeding it poison pills from the legislation.”
History of Industrial Hemp
Hemp is among the oldest industries on the planet, going back more than 10,000 years to the beginnings of pottery, according to the Hemp Industries Association website.
The Columbia History of the World states that the oldest relic of human industry is a bit of hemp fabric dating back to approximately 8,000 BC.
In 1937, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act which effectively began the era of hemp prohibition. The tax and licensing regulations of the act made hemp cultivation difficult for American farmers. The chief promoter of the Tax Act, Harry Anslinger, began promoting anti-marijuana legislation around the world.
With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor shut off foreign supplies of "manila hemp" fiber from the Philippines, the USDA produced a film called “Hemp For Victory” to encourage U.S. farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. The U.S. government formed the War Hemp Industries Department and subsidized hemp cultivation. During the war, U.S. farmers grew about a million acres of hemp across the Midwest as part of that program.
After the war ended, the government quietly shut down all the hemp processing plants and the industry faded away again.
During the period from 1937 to the late 60s, the U.S. government understood and acknowledged that industrial hemp and marijuana were distinct varieties of the Cannabis plant.
Hemp was no longer officially recognized as distinct from marijuana after the passage of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970. This is despite the fact that a specific exemption for hemp was included in the CSA under the definition of marijuana. The recent federal court case HIA vs DEA has re-established acknowledgement of distinct varieties of Cannabis, and supports the exemption for non-viable seed and fiber and any products made from them.