.Without Federal Legalization, Hemp Products Remain in Limbo

One thing that often gets lost in all the debate over highly problematic hemp-derived THC products is that the people who make and sell them have every reason to oppose cannabis legalization. After all, the market for their products—some of which might be downright dangerous—exists largely because pot remains illegal in so many states and at the federal level. The hemp-derived products, which can get you high, exist in a legal gray area, and are thus widely available, including in states where pot remains illegal.

The products exist because of the dumb way the law legalizing hemp was written in the 2018 Farm Bill. Hemp in its natural state generally doesn’t contain enough THC to get a person high. The Farm Bill contains language limiting the amount of “Delta-9 THC,” which is the kind most often associated with weed.

But there are a bunch of different kinds of THC. One of them is Delta-8. So naturally, companies—many of them super-sleazy—started making products made from concentrations of Delta-8 (pr Delta-10, or etc.) derived from hemp. They are sold in stores and on the internet, and are easy to obtain by anyone of any age. Depending on how the law is interpreted, they might be no more illegal than a hemp skirt.

Seemingly Simple Solutions

Congress is weighing a measure for the 2024 Farm Bill to close this loophole. There is wide agreement in the cannabis industry that “synthetic,” hemp-derived Delta-8 products should be legal and regulated just as regular weed is regulated. But some in the legal-weed business think the amendment being discussed goes too far. That’s at least in part thanks to the fact that some of them are themselves getting into the consumable-hemp business.

As with so many of the problems facing the cannabis industry, this one could be solved pretty simply: by legalizing weed, and regulating all this stuff the same way. Hemp and what we generally think of as “weed” are the same plant, after all (cannabis)—even if hemp and weed contain different amounts of various cannabinoids.

But since federal legalization appears to be dead in the water until at least after the November election (thanks mainly to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refusing to allow a vote on legalization in the Senate) we’re left in this weird limbo where different parts of the industry are at odds with each other; with a market of unregulated, possibly dangerous products being sold; and with lawmakers at the federal and state levels reaching for clumsy solutions to the problem.

Playing Politics

The politics of the situation are even more grotesque at the state level. Cannabis legalization is on the ballot in Florida in November, and, as is the case in most states, polls show a solid majority in favor of the measure (the vote might be close, though, since approval requires 60% of the electorate to vote “yes”).

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis isn’t even pretending to not be corrupt on this issue: He opposes legalization, but also recently vetoed a bill that would have banned intoxicating hemp products in the state. Marijuana Moment quoted DeSantis baldly stating that part of his rationale for the veto was that “the marijuana industry wanted this hemp bill.”

DeSantis recently created a political action committee called the Florida Freedom Fund, which, even for these people, is a particularly Orwellian name. The PAC exists for the express purpose of defeating legalization and another ballot measure that would guarantee access to abortion, which is, you know, sort of the opposite of freedom.

Behold DeSantis’s word salad in explaining himself: “Some of these people that are funding the marijuana, they came in when we did the medical marijuana, which I implemented because the voters passed it, and they said, ‘We don’t believe in recreation. We just want to do medical. We think it can help alleviate pain or whatever.’ And those same people that were saying that are now trying this amendment.”

The longer we go with a bifurcated legal system, with weed being legal in some respects and illegal in others, the more perverse things will get.


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