COVINGTON- Alcohol and Tobacco Control agents are cracking down on the sale of controversial products, often found on shelves in e-cigarette businesses.
At least six businesses in the New Orleans metro area have been suspended in the past six months for selling CBD, which is an extract made from cannabis plants.
CBD, which is short for cannabidiol, comes in various forms including oils and even gummy-like candy. The ATC says the problem is with certain CBD products that contain THC, which is the main ingredient in marijuana that leads to a high.
But some of the retailers say the state's laws, and some of the marketing on the products, have made knowing what's okay to sell or not very confusing.
In December, ATC ordered one out of four locations of the Create-A-Cig franchise, which are based in Jefferson, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes, to temporarily suspend operations. Case documents show the order was due to agents finding a total of six CBD products in those stores that tested positive for illegal synthetic ingredients, THC or a THC derivative.
In September, agents discovered Langley's Vapes in Covington had 73 CBD products that contained either THC or synthetic ingredients. The business was shutdown for two weeks. Before that, Albany Chevron was found to have four bags of CBD Gummy Bears that tested positive for illegal synthetic ingredients. It was hit with a 20-day suspension of business.
Those business are just a some of several across the state that have found themselves recently faced with the same fate which resulted in paying hefty fines and a loss of products in order to re-open their doors.
"That's pretty much what they get suspended for is synthetic drugs, THC, or THC derivative," said ATC Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard, "Not a hemp derivative... or some hemp oil. (It's) THC derivative in the vape products or in some other ingestible form."
Marine-Lombard says enforcement has gone up a notch because those kinds of products are becoming more mainstream.
"The market now is inundated with all these new products that are coming out every day," she said, "I just think people are not doing their proper due diligence. If it seems popular, they're buying it without probably investigating what's in it."
None of the retailers recently hit with fines and suspensions wanted to comment on camera, but they say part of the problem is knowing what to look for in the products. They say it's unclear what sources of CBD are legal in Louisiana, like hemp is, and what, if any, limits are legal for THC. The agency says it has a 0 percent THC policy.
Similar confusions led to charges being dropped this week against almost two dozen businesses in Tennessee that had been closed for selling CBD products after it was discovered the source was from hemp, which is legal in that state.
"It'd be great to have some transparency between us and the ATC and that's part of why we're wanting to work with them," said Anthony Kolesa with the Louisiana Association of Vaping, or LAVA.
Recently, the LAVA sat down with the ATC, not only to advocate for e-cigarettes to have its own regulations separate from tobacco, but to also partner to create a list of what's legal and what's not when it comes to CBD.
The agency says it's on board.
"I'm not in any way trying to shut down businesses," said Marine-Lombard, "I want small businesses in Louisiana to thrive. I just need to make sure the products they are selling aren't illegal or dangerous."
Legislation to address some of these regulation and law questions could be brought for consideration at this year's regular legislative session which starts March 12.