CLEVELAND — The cannabis industry is a quickly-growing market across the nation and in Ohio, allowing its growth to highlight the lack of action from the federal government and its agencies.
Each state is left to its own devices to regulate cannabis. Some states, like Ohio, have created strictly-medical marijuana programs while neighbors like Michigan legalized recreational use. Hemp products were legalized across the county in the 2018 Farm Bill, but since hemp comes from cannabis, groups like the FDA still don’t inspect or test hemp products.
When products like Delta 8 THC come along, the confusion compounds.
Both marijuana and hemp come from the cannabis plant. The difference is the amount of the compound THC that is in marijuana and hemp. THC is the compound that gives marijuana users the psychoactive effect, or gets them “high.” Hemp has less then .3 percent THC, which isn’t enough to have those effects.
Delta 8 THC is a derivative of hemp, leading producers and vendors to assert that it’s legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. But, Delta 8 has a similar but diminished psychoactive effect compared to Delta 9 THC, it’s much more common cousin.
“As a mother and a busy woman, I feel like I live in the moment more when I use cannabis or Delta 8,” said Amanda Luckay, who finds a lot of relief in the product that we still don’t know a whole lot about. “It just kind of balances you.”
Cannabis has been around for centuries but Delta 8 THC is a form of it that only really hit the market in the last year. Luckay buys much of her Delta 8 from Larry Shor’s Cleveland Botanical Destination, where he says Delta 8 quickly became a top-seller, accounting for almost half the money he makes.
“I was not surprised that this would take off, but I was surprised at how it replaced a lot of the users in the CBD space,” said Shor.
Shor said customers like Luckay use Delta 8 for quasi-medical reasons but also largely just to feel good and relax in the same way other people might have a beer, whiskey or glass of wine at the end of the day.
The difference is that since Delta 8 is made from cannabis, the federal agencies that make sure what we put in our bodies is safe are not testing Delta 8 or any other cannabis products.
Shor said that’s why he did a lot of research into the companies that he gets his products from to make sure they have reliable supply chains and that the products are safe.
That’s especially important because the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) is finding that elsewhere, that is a problem.
“Delta 8 is unregulated, there is evidence that it is contaminated in many respects,” said U.S. Cannabis Council Executive Director Steve Hawkins.
The USCC recently tested Delta 8 products being sold around the county and found that some of those samples had heavy metals and too much Delta 9 THC, making it illegal in states like Ohio that haven’t allowed recreational adult marijuana use.
“The federal government needs to get off the sidelines and participate and be the referee and the umpire,” said Hawkins.
He said federal laws from Congress or rules from the FDA would bring the testing that makes sure every other product we put in our bodies is safe. Shor agrees because right now his research is the only thing standing between his customers and a product that could hurt them.
“The reason why Delta 8 needs to be regulated is A, consumer safety and B, you need to be able to rely on dosing that is precise,” said Shor.
At the same time, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said he’s considering his options too.
“I’m not sure I buy into the vendors, the people who are selling Delta 8, their legal analysis,” said Yost.
The attorney general wouldn’t say much more, but referenced the Federal Analog Statute, which appears to make substances similar to illegal substances also illegal.
So far, there haven’t been any legal challenges to selling Delta 8 in Ohio, but Luckay points out that banning Delta 8 would not keep it out of Ohio.
“People would just end up finding it on the black market or going to Michigan where it’s recreationally legal there,” said Luckay.
Since the federal agencies and government haven’t weighed in on cannabis beyond the 2018 Farm Bill, laws regulating cannabis can differ a lot from one state to another. That sparked Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to criticize the federal government’s split approach to the substance, which bans marijuana at the federal level while allowing states to permit it.
Advocates hope that will inspire Congress to move on one of the bills currently working through the law-making process to create consistent law in all 50 states.
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