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A total of Louisiana's booming consumable THC industry is a step away from becoming law after a state House committee on Tuesday approved a bill to shutter the market.

, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport, advanced from the House's Administration of Criminal Justice Committee on a 7-5 vote, moving the legislation to the full House after a contentious hearing where business owners clashed with Republican lawmakers.

If the House approves the bill and Gov. Jeff Landry signs it, the legislation would wipe out over the past several years — a step Pressly and other conservatives say is needed due to the products' mind-altering properties and the ease with which they can be accessed in the current market.

"There are legitimate uses for hemp products — from biofuels to plastics, from fiber to food, and building materials. I have no objection to those products," Pressly said. "It is the intoxicating, synthetic, lab-created products with THC that my bill focuses on."  

Business owners warned that the legislation would throttle their livelihoods and encourage people to return to buying marijuana and other drugs on the black market. 

"Weed is often called a gateway drug. It’s not because when you smoke weed you decide to go do cocaine or heroin," said Joe Gerrity, CEO of New Orleans-based Crescent Canna. "It’s because the drug dealer that you're purchasing from offers those, as well."

In an interview last month, House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, said he expected the Legislature to find compromise between Pressly's total ban and Rep. Dustin Miller's , which would keep the 8 mg limit on THC per serving but require extracts to come with measuring devices. Under Miller's bill, only people older than 21 could buy the products, and all would be placed behind counters except for beverages.

A compromise could still materialize on the House floor, where Pressly's bill moves next. Industry leaders, many of whom acknowledge that a higher level of regulation would be helpful, support Miller's bill.

THC-infused gummies, sodas, tinctures and candies appeared on shelves in droves over the past two years after the Legislature, at the urging of former House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, approved laws that legalized THC in hemp, the psychoactive chemical that gets people high. Lawmakers gave their thumbs up after Schexnayder assured the state-regulated marijuana industry privately and legislators publicly that it wouldn’t lead to the sale of mind-altering substances.

Retail sales of the products soared from $512,000 in 2020 to over $33 million in 2023, according to Louisiana Hemp Association data. Tax revenue swelled from $64,000 to over $4.1 million in that window, figures industry insiders say are likely under-reported.

Backlash grew just as fast.

While Schexnayder laid responsibility on the Louisiana Department of Health for failing to enforce guardrails laid out by his legislation, a growing chorus of conservative lawmakers blamed the former speaker for the proliferation of products they claimed they hadn't realized could get people high.

At Tuesday's committee hearing, Pressly began presenting his bill by playing video of an exchange between Schexnayder and Rep. Polly Thomas, R-Metairie, on the House floor in 2022 as Schexnayder presented a key THC-legalization bill, House Bill 758. 

Thomas asked Schexnayder to confirm a private statement he'd previously made to her that consumers couldn’t get high from the products.

“Absolutely,” Schexnayder replied at the time, adding that it would take “tractor-trailer loads” of the hemp-derived chemicals to elicit a high.

Opponents of the bill, including the conservative Louisiana Family Forum and Louisiana Baptist Convention, argued Tuesday that multiple legal servings of THC are being packaged in containers — such as drink cans or bags of gummies — in ways that appeal to children.

Brandy Price Klingman, CEO of St. Christopher Wellness Addiction Center in Ϳʷ¼, blamed the products for "a tidal wave of psychosis” her facility has  treated.

"This is marketed to your youths," Klingman told the committee.

Delta-9 and Delta-8 THC are both found in much of the THC-infused hemp being sold in Louisiana. In the short term, Delta-9 can cause exhilaration and relaxation, but also anxiety, memory loss, dysphoria, delusions, and hallucinatory experiences, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The Food and Drug Administration has reported similar effects connected to Delta-8.

Yet business owners who sell THC-infused products said supporters of Pressly's bill misrepresented health effects of their products and overlooked steps the industry has taken to test their hemp and educate users about its effects.

"Baby food is more likely to contain heavy metals and lead than this product," said Gerrity, of Crescent Canna in New Orleans, whose business sells a popular line of Delta-9-infused THC seltzers. 

Users will be able to simply order the products from other states, Gerrity pointed out, because Pressly's bill doesn't address online regulation.

Miller's legislation to increase regulation without outlawing THC products completely is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Agriculture committee.

James Finn covers state politics in Ϳʷ¼ for The Advocate | The Times-Picayune. Email him at jfinn@theadvocate.com.

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