Hemp-derived Cannabinoids operate in unregulated market, but lawmakers want to change that

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Hemp-derived Cannabinoids operate in unregulated market, but lawmakers want to change that

Missouri Lawmakers Mull Regulation for Hemp-Derived Cannabinoids Amid Concerns Over Youth Access and Lack of Oversight.

Missouri lawmakers are considering imposing regulations on hemp-derived cannabinoids, such as delta-8, which are not currently covered by the state’s legal marijuana policies.

The lack of regulations on these products means that there is no industry standard dictating the concentration of intoxicating cannabinoids or age restrictions on who can purchase the items, which are sometimes sold in convenience stores and elsewhere.

The hemp plant, from which these cannabinoids are developed, is not traditionally used to create intoxicating substances. Hemp contains CBD, which has been used to treat chronic pain, anxiety, inflammation, and insomnia.

It is not a psychoactive drug in these formats, unlike THC, which is the part of marijuana that gets a user high. However, since CBD was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill, manufacturers have developed new and innovative ways to convert CBD into psychoactive substances such as delta-8 THC or delta-9 THC.

As such, products infused with psychoactive substances developed through these processes are unregulated, being sold in gas stations and other convenience stores. While many stores have imposed age limits similar to alcohol and tobacco, there are no state statutes governing who may purchase it.

State Sen. Nick Schroer is sponsoring legislation in the Missouri Senate seeking to allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to regulate these cannabinoids. Rep. Chad Perkins, R-Bowling Green, carries similar legislation in the House.

“There's zero reason why these THC products should not be treated like any other THC product in our state,” Schroer said. “Similar to alcohol, one regulatory body covers all intoxicating liquors and alcohol, such as beer, bourbon, wine, moonshine, brandy and even hooch.”

Chris Lindsey, a lobbyist with the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp, spoke in support of the legislation, pointing to the fact that the chemical process that changes hemp into a psychoactive substance places it in the same regulatory ballpark as marijuana.

“This would be like me coming in here and saying, ‘This isn't vodka. This is wheat. It should be regulated like wheat,’” Lindsey said.

The proposed regulation has drawn the ire of those working in the hemp and CBD industry. Vince Sanders, founder and president of CBD American Shaman, says that many in the field already do the same testing as cannabis retailers and adding another responsibility to the marijuana regulatory system would be a bad idea.

“This is not a substance that needs to be regulated by the marijuana industry. As you’ve said, it's a very clunky system,” Sanders said. “They're struggling to govern what they have. To load more on their plate would be a nearly impossible thing. So if you really want the marijuana industry to thrive, I definitely think you wouldn't put it on there either.”

Ronald Leone, executive director of Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, argued that placing these products under the purview of DHSS would cut gas stations and convenience stores out of the market.

“Everybody agrees with the reasonable regulation of the reasonable taxation,” Leone said. “The question is, ‘Who do you allow to take advantage of this new and burgeoning market?’”

Leone feels that this will undermine the free market economy by only allowing sales at locations authorized by DHSS. He hopes to see the legislation include provisions allowing other retailers to participate in this market.

“It unfairly and unnecessarily increases the power of the marijuana monopoly. It interferes with the free market; it picks winners and losers and it only allows the sale of these products in the marijuana dispensaries,” Leone said.

Others in opposition to the bill pointed out provisions that would create stiff penalties for convenience store workers who sold these products. Dan Viets, a Columbia defense attorney who assisted with the effort to pass recreational marijuana in 2022, is opposed to the creation of harsh prison sentences for cashiers who may sell this product.

“The first offense of these tens of thousands of people working in convenience stores across the state would be up to 10 years in prison; the second up to 15; the third up to life in prison, the same penalties we impose for heroin or methamphetamine,” Viets said.

However, medical professionals raised concerns about the increase in child poison cases due to these unregulated products. Julie Weber, director of the Missouri Poison Center at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, pointed to the increase in reported cases of children inadvertently consuming these products.

“We've more than doubled from 2021 with over 515 exposures to people, adults, teens and children,” Weber said. “But in children, what we've seen is it's more than doubled every year with exposures, to just last year 205 exposures in children five and younger getting into these products.”

Weber attributes many of these exposures to the packaging of these products, which is often colorful and mimics familiar snacks and candy. She said that these products sometimes have up to 1,000 mg of psychoactive ingredients, which is not advertised on the packaging due to a lack of regulations requiring such disclosure.

“It’s the packaging as well that’s a big concern,” Weber said “It’s attractive, has bright colors, mimics foods and candy. It also has cartoon figures on there.”

In contrast, the marijuana industry is under strict packaging guidelines to ensure that their products are not overtly enticing to children.

Brian Taylor, a captain with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, shared a personal experience with hemp-derived substances. He received a call from his daughter’s high school that she had been found passed out in a bathroom after consuming an unregulated product that was believed to be one of these artificially-derived cannabinoids.

“My frustration even for law enforcement and as a father is that these products she took, there's nothing illegal about her getting them, whoever got them, whoever distributed them to her, there were no regulations on them,” Taylor said.

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Region: Missouri

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