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Legislature Battles Over Hemp Legislation

Representative Dustin Miller fought a hard battle on the floor of the house Friday morning. SB 237 BANNING hemp products was fiercely debated, then tabled for the morning session. Rep Miller argued that his bill, HB 952 regulating the industry, would be heard by the Senate later in the day and the house should wait for action by the Senate.

Representative Laurie Schlegel pushed for adoption of the BAN, offering amendments to allow some sales of hemp products in an effort to get house members to support SB 237. She proposed a 5mg limit per serving and an 8 serving limit per package. Her amendment also proposed that only alcohol and tobacco licensees would sell hemp products and their building must be at least 17,500 square feet in size.

Under the provisions of her amendment, the businesses that have invested millions of dollars and built the industry would be out of the hemp business unless they decide to invest more money and become alcohol or tobacco sellers. Their buildings would have to be 17,500 in size and most existing hemp manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers would be out of business, turning the industry over to the alcohol and tobacco industry.

Her amendment failed fortunately, then Representative Debbie Villio offered an amendment to reduce the square footage requirement to 5,000 square feet in an attempt to change votes. Her amendment failed as well but a few representatives changed their vote when the square footage was reduced, siding with Rep Schlegel and Villio.

Ultimately, Rep Miller was able to table SB 237 on the promise he would bring the bill back up at 5:30 that afternoon if the Senate rejected his bill later in the day. The legislature had until 6pm to pass legislation with a majority vote. After 6pm, for the remainder of the session, any bill under consideration must get a 2/3 vote to pass.

Senator Jean-Paul Coussan, a hemp industry supporter, led the Senate battle over Rep Miller's bill. Sen Coussan met all week with legislators that supported HB 952 and those that wanted to BAN hemp products.

He offered an amendment to HB 952 that included provisions that legislators had agreed upon privately.

Sen Coussan's amendments provided for a 5mg/serving limit and an 8 servings per package limit. His amendment also bans the sale of hemp products at C-stores that sell gasoline but allows sales at truck stops. While these provisions are not supported by our Association and others in the industry, Sen Coussan explained that it was important for the Senate to adopt Rep Miller's bill and that he had compromised with fellow Senators in order to achieve the adoption of HB 952.

To be certain, Sen Coussan didn't like his own amendments. He reminded us that the Senate had approved Sen Pressly's BAN Bill on a 27-9 vote. The Senate overwhelming had voted to BAN ALL HEMP PRODUCTS. Senator Coussan's strategy paid off, his amendment was approved without objection by a single member of the Senate.

Senator Pressly then offered an additional amendment than BANS the sale of hemp products in bars and restaurants. After banning sales of products at C-Store which comprise 70% of the 3,000+ hemp retailers, Sen Pressly now wanted to further erode the marketplace by keeping hemp beverages out of bars. His argument focused on protecting children, without acknowledging that a person must be 21 to purchase alcohol in a bar. He restated his desire that if it were up to him, all the products would be BANNED everywhere.

Senator Pressly's amendment passed on a 19-18 vote in favor. While the senate had accepted Sen Coussan's compromise, they wanted more. They voted to BAN hemp products in bars & restaurants.

HB 952 now goes back to the House for concurrence. If the house concurs, the amended bill becomes law on the signature of the Governor. If the house rejects the amendments, the bill will likely be sent to a conference committee. The Senate President and the Speaker of the House will appoint three members of each house to attempt to work out a compromise. The committees recommendations must then be agreed upon by both houses.

With HB 952 approved by the Senate, the house did not take up SB 237. In order for the house to consider SB 237, 2/3 of the members must agree to do so. That is unlikely.

The legislature convenes at 5 pm today. The session must end by 6pm tomorrow evening. Between now and then, the house must decide what to do with HB 952 and if the senate amendments are rejected, a conference committee must be appointed, meet, and make recommendations. Then both houses have to approve the recommendations.

If the house rejects the amendments to HB 952, expect all of this to happen before 6pm Monday. This legislature is committed to passing a hemp regulatory bill in this session.


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