BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's farmers could start growing industrial hemp by the spring if federal and state agriculture agencies keep their regulatory work on track, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said.
Strain outlined to state lawmakers Monday the regulations his department has drafted for industrial hemp production, rules that will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval.
"I know there's a full-court press to get this done," Strain said.
Lawmakers earlier this year agreed to legalize hemp production in Louisiana, saying that would help farmers diversify their crops. The law is in line with what's allowed under the 2018 federal Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances.
Hemp is a member of the cannabis plant family but contains only traces of the THC chemical compound that causes a high for marijuana users. Hemp is used for textiles, fuels, rope and chemical absorbents, among other products.
The state law required a hemp growing and production regulatory plan be submitted to the USDA by Nov. 1.
WAFB-TV reports that federal officials must first write their own rules for hemp's growth before it can accept Louisiana's additional regulations. Strain said he expects the USDA policy to be finished in November, meaning Louisiana could begin issuing farmers permits to grow the lucrative plant by January.
Because the cannabis plant does well in arid climates, lawmakers hope Louisiana can become a leader in hemp production.
"Every farmer won't dive into this, because it is labor intensive," said Rep. Clay Schexnayder, the Gonzales Republican who sponsored the state's hemp legalization bill. "But I do think the ones that do get involved in it, it will pay off for them."
Strain estimates 100 to 200 farmers will plant hemp across as many as 80,000 acres (32,375 hectares) of Louisiana soil in 2020. He warned that the expense from cultivating the plant and the strict regulations could keep some smaller farming operations from producing the plant.
Farmers will have to go through an extensive permitting process, and each crop will be watched carefully by state regulators. Farmers also can't have any felony convictions in the last decade or drug convictions in the last two years.
Growing hemp for individual use is prohibited.