California, Missouri join chorus of states trying to restrict delta-8, other ‘diet weed’ products

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Two more states have joined the chorus of nearly 30 others seeking to restrict delta-8 THC and other unregulated, synthetic forms of intoxicating hemp from the market.

California agencies Friday issued notices aimed at the products, which are marketed as alternatives to marijuana, which contains the psychoactive compound delta-9 THC.

Missouri would put the hemp-based compounds under rules for tobacco, alcohol, beer and marijuana through proposed laws in both houses of the state’s legislature.

Illegal, unsafe

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) were directed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to warn companies who hold licenses under both agencies that the products are illegal and unsafe.

States throughout the U.S. are working to get their arms around a runaway market for intoxicating hemp products – often called “diet weed,” “marijuana light,” or “gas station pot,” – after the 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp federally but failed to anticipate the market for intoxicating downstream products that has developed in the intervening years. 

Regulators and health officials have been wary of the products since they started appearing at the end of the last decade. Nearly 8,000 people reported adverse effects after consuming products containing delta-8 THC or other intoxicating hemp compounds between 2021-2023, according to the national network of poison control centers.

Widely available

In addition to being widely available in convenience stores, bodegas, CBD shops and other common retail outlets, online ads also push the products, which are usually in the form of gummies and other edibles.

Most of the compounds are produced synthetically by putting hemp-derived CBD through a process in the lab. In addition to delta-8 THC – the most popular of the substances – producers are also making synthetic delta-10 THC, THC-O-acetate, HHC, THCP and others.

“Mislabeled and misleading products do not belong in the marketplace – especially when they put our kids’ health and safety at risk,” Newsom said in a statement from the Governor’s office. “Today, the state is taking action to protect Californians, especially our kids, as we work to further close loopholes and increase enforcement to prevent children from accessing hemp and cannabis products.”

Drinks targeted

The notices come after reports of highly intoxicating hemp beverages present in retail outlets across the state “which could lead to them dangerously winding up in the hands of young Californians,” according to the statement.

Hemp products, which are regulated separately from California’s legal marijuana market, are required to comply with a number of consumer safety laws, including strict labeling requirements. Distributing or selling products that do not meet these requirements is a crime under packaging, labeling and other rules in the federal Sherman Act, anti-trust legislation on food, drug and cosmetics laws that date back nearly 150 years, according to the notice from the CDPH.

“If an industrial hemp product package or label does not fully comply with these requirements, then it is mislabeled or misbranded and is therefore illegal,” according to CDPH. Violations could lead to revocation of CDPH licenses, the agency said.

The ABC notice similarly warned licensees that they are specifically prohibited from advertising or marketing via packaging or products that might reasonably be considered attractive to children.

Local health jurisdictions may take action on illegal industrial hemp food products sold at retail locations pursuant to the California Retail Food Code, according to CDPH.

Two bills in Missouri

In Missouri, Senate Bill 984 (SB 984 ) and House Bill 1781 (HB 1781), aimed at getting the products out of the reach of children, are drawing strong support from the state’s law enforcement agencies.

Lake Saint Louis Police Chief Chris DiGiuseppi said concerns over the products, which are widely available and unregulated, are growing, compounding the ongoing opioid crisis and fentanyl overdoses which burden police agencies in the state.

“We have a drug problem as it is,” DiGiuseppi told KDSK, the St. Louis NBC affiliate. “One more intoxicating substance that’s readily available and easily attained by our youth – we just don’t need it,” he said, noting that minors can buy products containing up to 5 grams of delta-8 THC and other high-producing compounds in one package.

Industry ‘false narrative’

According to DiGiuseppi, in one recorded incident, ten students from Sumner High School in St. Louis were taken to the hospital after consuming products containing delta-8 THC. 

“There’s a false narrative out there that some of the proponents of the product had been putting out about how it’s going to help law enforcement if we really don’t have to regulate this stuff if we don’t have to, enforce it and that’s just not true,” DiGiuseppi said.

“This isn’t going to help law enforcement. I believe our police leadership across the state agrees with that and says that when you put another intoxicating substance that’s readily available, . . . it’s going to negatively impact us,” he added.

Chiefs back change

The Law Enforcement Legislative Coalition, a new organization that represents Missouri police chiefs on legislative matters that affect public safety, is backing the legislation, which would:

  • Place the Missouri Department of Health in charge of regulation.
  • Ban the sale of these products to those under the age of 21.
  • Require products to undergo mandatory lab tests.
  • Establish and enforce proper labeling requirements. 
  • Mandate childproof packaging.
  • Prohibit marketing of such products to children.

“What’s really disturbing for us in law enforcement is the fact that the pictures of it looks just like candy and you can tell it’s being targeted for teenagers and even younger,” Branson Police Chief Eric Schmitt told KY3 TV, the NBC affiliate in Springfield.

Lawsuit targets producer

Two customers recently filed a lawsuit against a maker of intoxicating hemp products sold in Missouri. The class action case claims that Stiiizy-branded delta-8 products contained more than 200% of the legal limit for THC in hemp products.

The plaintiffs allege the producer, Los Angeles-based Shryne Group, intentionally misleads customers on THC products and does not follow the same regulations that cannabis retailers, sellers and distributors must adhere to.

According to the lawsuit, lab testing showed some Stiiizy products in Missouri and Illinois that were labeled as containing delta-8 actually contained 3.57% of delta-9 THC, the form of the psychoactive compound found mainly in marijuana plants.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Missouri since 2018. Recreational marijuana became legal for adults 21 and over in 2022.

Both SB 984 and HB 1781 were voted out of committee and are being sent to the respective floors of the legislature for debate.

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