With state legislators continuing to address efforts to legalize or decriminalize the use of marijuana, and cannabis and hemp shops springing up in northeastern Louisiana, it is easy for consumers to be confused with what it’s all about and what, exactly, is legal.
What’s the difference between cannabis, marijuana, CBD and THC? In the eyes of the law, they are not the same thing, but the distinction between the terms is largely semantic.
Cannabis is a plant of the Cannabaceae family and contains more than 80 biologically active compounds, according to the U.S. Drug and Food Administration. The most commonly known compounds are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC has psychoactive properties; it’s the chemical that generates a high for the consumer. Consuming THC is legal for recreational use in some U.S. states, but Louisiana is not one of them.
Recreational use of the drug is legal in the following: Washington; Colorado; Oregon; Alaska; District of Columbia; Nevada; Massachusetts; Maine; California; Michigan; Illinois; Vermont; New Jersey; Montana; Arizona; Virginia; New York; New Mexico; and Connecticut.
CBD is derived from hemp plants, which are the same species as marijuana but contain virtually no THC. .
Use of the cannabis sativa plant has been regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 under the drug class “marijuana.” Marijuana is listed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act due to what it calls its high potential for abuse — which is attributable in large part to the psychoactive effects of THC — and the absence of a currently accepted medical use of the plant in the United States.
In Louisiana, marijuana for medical use became legal in 2019, but can be grown legally in only two locations in the state, both university laboratory settings, at LSU and Southern. It can only be obtained with a doctor’s recommendation, and is only available in a limited number of locations around the state, knows as dispensaries.
There are nine approved medical marijuana dispensaries in Louisiana, one of which is located in Northeast Louisiana, Delta Medmar in West Monroe.
Other businesses that sell CBD and cannabis products are not able to sell medical marijuana or, legally speaking, any marijuana at all.
Bobby Williams, owner of 1620 Essentials Cannabis & Gifts in Ruston, described his business as a “consumer hemp store.” Though Williams said it is not a “marijuana dispensary,” he said the difference is not a vast one.
“If it’s under .3% and it’s under total THC of 1%, then it’s considered hemp so that’s what I sell here, that’s the only restriction,” Williams said. “So, for example, the edibles, it’s got to be less than .3% but that’s of overall weight. The gummies that I sell here, a lot of them do have, 10- or 15-miligrams of THC, which is a pretty meaningful dose for recreational or medicinal but the gummy weight five grams, it’s got 10- or 15-miligrams that comes in les than .3%. That’s why it can have so much but be over the counter because it’s all derived from hemp, it’s not derived from marijuana.”
There are state regulations cannabis retailers have to be abide by, Williams said. One of those regulations includes having to submit a list of products to be approved by the U.S. Department of Health.
“There’s been some closure of businesses that have not done everything they should do as far state regulations,” Williams said. “With hemp, it’s starting to differ a little bit from marijuana. They did open up marijuana to where the smokable flower is that so you can’t use it for inhalation. Probably the biggest regulation that we deal with is that nothing that I sell in here can be sold for the purpose that you’re going to inhale. You just have to pay on point with all of that stuff because they’re watching.”
Cannabis stores are helping to destigmatize the use of marijuana, Williams said.
“We still have that a lot because there’s a lot of people who don’t want to be seen (in the store),” he said. “They want to pay cash because maybe their significant other doesn’t know about it or maybe they don’t wan tot bring that up so there is kind of a stigma, but I think making it normalized as possible and getting these stores like ours out there, the better.”
Williams said business for the stores thrive as the medical marijuana market changes.
“People get curious but they don’t want to go to the doctor to see them, so they can just come by here and get what they needed,” Williams said.
There are currently four cannabis shops in business in Northeast Louisiana:
- 1620 Essentials Cannabis & Gifts, 1522 North Trenton St., Ruston, (318) 570-2846
- Kajun Kush, 2218 Forsythe Ave., Suite 2, Monroe, (318) 803-2548
- Kush Vibez, 112 Blanchard St., West Monroe, (318) 582-5132
- STR8W8 Cannabis Café, 512 Louisville Ave., Monroe, (318) 570-2846
What are the new laws regarding marijuana?
Using marijuana for therapeutic, if not recreational, purposes has been legal in Louisiana since 2019, and the laws could soon be changing again.
Currently, Louisiana’s medical marijuana law allows any medical doctor in good standing to recommend it to patients for virtually any condition. Doctors can’t officially “prescribe” the medicine, but the recommendation acts as a prescription.
Although the law names specific medical conditions eligible for treatment, it opens up all conditions within the following line: “Any condition not otherwise specified in present law or proposed law that a physician, in his medical opinion, considers debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified through his medical education and training to treat.”
A bill to legalize the sale and use of marijuana died in the House in May 2021, but a bill that reduces the penalty for the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use in Louisiana introduced by Rep. Cedric Glover (D-Shreveport) passed and went into effect on Aug. 1, 2021. The new law sets the maximum penalty for possession of 14 grams or less at a $100 fine,
That is likely to be as far as the state is willing to go. Upon signing the bill into law, Gov. John Bel Edwards said the issue was one of keeping minor offenders out of the state correctional system, and not about giving people the ability to consume marijuana or other cannabis or THC products..
“This is not a decision I took lightly,” Edwards said. “In addition to carefully reviewing the bill, I also believe deeply that the state of Louisiana should no longer incarcerate people for minor legal infractions, especially those that are legal in many states, that can ruin lives and destroy families, as well as cost taxpayers greatly.”
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