Debate over intoxicating hemp rages in southern states, but it’s mostly talk

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Southern states are coming down on both sides of the intoxicating hemp debate, with Texas being urged to enact strict rules for the synthetic compounds while Louisiana lawmakers have sidelined legislation that would ban products containing the substances.

In Florida, reports have it that the governor may be looking to play hemp stakeholders off against marijuana interests in his fight against efforts to legalize recreational pot.

Texas Sen. Charles Perry, who sponsored legislation in 2019 to open up the state’s hemp sector now says he regrets the move because nefarious players in the industry jumped through a loophole to create unregulated psychoactive hemp-derived products he says are now available in more than 7,000 retail outlets – gas stations, bars, coffee shops, strip malls and even mobile trailers – that sell the illicit products in the form of gummies, candies, drinks, and smokeable products.

‘Screwing it up’

Perry now says he should have known better when he put forth the original 2019 state hemp law. He told a Texas Senate State Affairs Committee hearing on consumable hemp last week that he suspected the law would eventually be exploited, although he warned retailers at the time not to do so.

“I told these retailers, ‘If you guys screw this up by being cute and getting people high off it, there will be consequences,’ ” he told the hearing. “I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised that we are here today.”

Perry now says while he doesn’t support a total ban on the products, strict rules for their production and sale should be put in place. That likely would not happen until the legislature’s 2025 session, leaving Texas consumers at risk from the products, which are under no standards for production, and many of which have been shown to be unsafe in many parts of the country.

The intoxicating hemp compounds, most of which are made by putting hemp-derived CBD through a process in the lab, are variously referred to as “gas station pot,” “diet weed” or “marijuana light.” The products containing them are marketed as an alternative to marijuana, which contains the psychoactive compound delta-9 THC. In addition to delta-8 THC – the most popular of the intoxicating hemp compounds – the substances include delta-10 THC, THC-O-acetate, HHC, THCP and others.

Growing debate

The growing debate over the “high”-producing substances is quickly reaching a pitched battle in which licensed medical and recreational marijuana interests across the country say the illicit hemp products represent unfair competition because they are not regulated while the pot operators must meet strict guidelines under expensive licenses.

“The intoxicating hemp industry in Texas has been marketed as something that’s legal, safe and capable of self-regulation,” Nico Richardson, CEO of Texas Original, a state-licensed medical cannabis provider, told the hearing. “However, many hemp products are highly intoxicating, more potent than what’s offered in the medical CUP program, and dangerously unregulated.” Texas does not allow recreational marijuana, but has had roughly 8,000 patients registered under its strict medical marijuana program.

Bills stall in Louisiana

In Louisiana, both houses of the state legislature fiddled with updated hemp bills last week but none was put forth before the legislature ended its session yesterday.

The House of Representatives sidelined amendments to a Senate bill that would have banned the products altogether. Meanwhile the Senate approved a House bill that would have placed several restrictions on the types of consumable products that can contain hemp and the amount of THC per serving, but the session’s end means that legislation still awaits a final vote.

The House measure would ban intoxicating hemp-infused beverages from bars and restaurants, and would limit the amount of THC in hemp gummies and other snacks to 5mg per serving size, down from 8 mg.

Louisiana stakeholders said changes in current hemp legislation would put at risk roughly 2,000 hemp-related businesses that have started up in the state since 2022.

DeSantis’ cynical game

In Florida, some observers have said Gov. Ron DeSantis may to take advantage of the conflict between hemp and marijuana interests in his efforts to keep pot illegal in his state. He is reportedly planning to veto a bill that would ban the intoxicating hemp products in the hopes the hemp industry will help finance his effort to defeat a recreational marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s November ballot, according to unidentified sources who spoke to CBS News.

Stakeholders have said the Florida legislation (HB 1613) would wipe out the state’s $1.8 billion CBD market. The measure, which passed the legislature in March, would ban all products that contain intoxicating hemp compounds and put crippling restrictions on CBD.

The law would specifically prohibit ingestible or inhalable products that contain delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC, HHC, THCP and THCV. All of those compounds are made by putting hemp-derived CBD through a synthetic process to produce highly concentrated substances that give users a “high.” THCA, a precursor to delta-9 THC, which turns into delta-9 when burned, would also be banned. If DeSantis does not veto the bill, it will go into effect Oct.1.

National problem

States across the USA are working to reign in the intoxicating hemp products, with some banning them altogether and others imposing strict rules. Many producers and sellers have received warnings from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regarding the safety of the products. FDA said it has received reports of serious adverse events from consumers, and at least one child’s death in Virginia was attributed to the consumption of delta-8 THC, the most popular of the hemp-derived synthetic compounds.

Officials in some states have come out strongly against the intoxicating hemp products because they are being marketed in packaging that mimics leading brands of treats that are popular among children.

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