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More States Seek Bans on Synthesized Cannabinoids

canabis extraction lab making products from hemp
Photo: Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock

PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota lawmakers are joining a growing chorus of state governments and federal agencies taking action against unregulated cannabinoids synthesized from hemp. Intoxicating hemp-derived products like delta-8 vape cartridges and so-called “hemp delta-9” products are presumed legal under the 2018 farm bill in 22 states and Washington D.C., but they are largely unregulated. Consequently, the resulting multibillion-dollar market lacks the kind of consumer protections built into cannabis laws in legal states.

While some states have moved to regulate synthetic cannabinoids in the same way they regulate cannabis, legislatures in many others are introducing laws to completely ban their manufacture and sale.

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House Bill 1125, introduced by State Rep. Brian Mulder (R), passed its first hearing in the Republican-led South Dakota House Health and Human Services committee Tuesday on a party-line vote of 11-2. The bill would prohibit the chemical modification or conversion of industrial hemp and the sale or distribution of synthetic cannabinoid products. If passed, South Dakota would join 17 other states that have effectively banned hemp-derived cannabinoids like delta-8 through a variety of means.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) temporarily placed six synthetic cannabinoids on Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act in December. However, the two-year ban does not include any commonly used THC alternatives. The DEA action primarily targets imported substances that often are sprayed on plant material or mixed with hard drugs including heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine. While the DEA has signaled a crackdown on popular delta-8 products with numerous warning letters, no substantive change or direct guidance has yet emerged.

“Some of the available data raise serious concerns about potential harm from delta-8 THC,” the DEA’s July warning letters state. “Our review of published scientific literature identified potential for adverse effects on the central nervous and cardiopulmonary systems. In addition, studies in animals have suggested that gestational exposure to delta-8 THC can interfere with neurodevelopment. Therefore, based on our review, the use of delta-8 THC in conventional food does not satisfy the criteria for GRAS [generally recognized as safe] status under [regulation] 21 CFR 170.30.”

With no clear federal guidance in sight, lawmakers in Arizona, Florida, Missouri, and South Dakota are seeking immediate state-level solutions to the problem.

Arizona State Sen. Janae Shamp (R) introduced S.B. 1401 in January with the goal of adding delta-8 and any other intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids to the state’s list of dangerous drugs. Possession of a dangerous drug in Arizona is a Class 4 felony punishable by up to 3.75 years incarceration for first-time offenders and up to 15 years for those with previous felony convictions. Manufacturing or selling dangerous drugs is a Class 2 felony punishable by up to 15 years incarceration and fines.

In Florida, the state Senate and House are considering a pair of identical bills that would ban intoxicating hemp-derived products. Filed in early January by state Sen. Colleen Burton (R) and state Rep. Tommy Gregory (R), respectively, SB 1698 and HB 1613 would make a number of changes to the state’s hemp program, including revising the definition of hemp extract to “prohibit it from containing synthetic or naturally occurring versions of controlled substances” such as delta-8 and other hemp-derived cannabinoids. The Senate version is progressing quickly with passage through the Agriculture committee on Jan. 23 and the Fiscal Policy committee on Jan 31. The House version has been referred to two committees.

Missouri State Sen. Nicholas Schroer (R) introduced SB 984 in January to regulate all “intoxicating cannabinoids” the same way regardless how they are produced. If passed, intoxicating cannabinoid products would be subject to the same legal framework applied to cannabis products under the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The bill was referred to the Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence committee on Jan. 25. If the bill takes effect on its proposed date of Aug. 28, 2024, Missouri would join California, Connecticut, and Tennessee as the only states to enact significant regulations and consumer protections for hemp-derived products, including laboratory testing, labeling, and age restrictions.

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