Washington lawmakers urge a halt to hemp-derived THC in the state
Washington lawmakers are making a final push to stop the sale of intoxicating and synthetic cannabis products, including gummy candy and vape oil, at gas stations, convenience stores and smokehouses after previous bills failed .
“These are being sold right now, without any regulation, without any oversight,” said Democratic Senator Karen Keizer. “It’s a public health hazard and a threat, and it needs to be eliminated.”
With about two weeks left in the legislative session, Keizer and Republican Mark Schoesler on Friday introduced a measure to ban products both within and outside the legal cannabis industry in Washington. The products proliferated nationwide due to a perceived loophole in the 2018 federal Farm Bill, which allowed the cultivation of hemp.
An alternative bipartisan bill – which would ban synthetic cannabinoids outside of Washington’s regulated Initiative 502 marijuana market, but convene a scientific panel to recommend ways to allow them in the future – was introduced earlier in the week in the room.
Over the past year and a half, growers across the country have taken CBD, a non-intoxicating compound extracted from hemp, and chemically converted it using acids and solvents into delta-8, delta -9 or other types of THC, which is then used in vape oil, gummy candies and other products.
Some of these products were sold in licensed cannabis stores in Washington, while others were sold in smokehouses, gas stations or convenience stores, including to minors.
Last year, the Alcohol and Cannabis Council of Washington banned synthetically derived THC from products in the Initiative 502 system, fearing that having to compete with the cheap ingredient produced from hemp grown outside the US The state is pushing many of the state’s licensed and regulated cannabis producers out of business.
Speaker David Postman said he wants the Legislature to make it clear that the board also has the power to prevent stores outside the regulated system from selling intoxicating and synthetic cannabinoids.
“This is our best, and perhaps only, chance this year to get the laws needed to regulate the burgeoning world of new and minor cannabinoids,” Postman said in an email Friday.
THC is the most important component of marijuana. While marijuana and hemp are the same plant – cannabis – federal law makes a distinction between marijuana, which is grown for its high THC content, and hemp, defined by its low THC content and traditionally used for food, clothing and industrial applications.
Since marijuana is defined by its delta-9 THC content, the most common type, proponents of synthetic cannabis have argued that it is acceptable to use CBD extracted from hemp to make other types of cannabis. THC, like delta-8 – a molecule that occurs naturally but in minimal amounts in cannabis, is closely related to delta-9 and also produces a high.
At least 17 states have banned synthetic cannabinoids in the past year, and even hemp industry groups have called on Congress to clarify the law.
In Washington, the fight pitted the Liquor and Cannabis Board against the Washington CannaBusiness Association, an industry group that represents a small but politically strong segment of the licensed cannabis industry.
Both parties want to stop the sale of intoxicating delta-8 or other synthetic cannabinoids at gas stations, convenience stores and vape shops. But there is strong disagreement over whether synthetically derived THC belongs in the regulated adult use system or medical marijuana.
The industry group is also concerned that LCB-backed legislation could give the agency the power to “degrade” cannabinoids without adequately defining what is meant by this – creating uncertainty for regulated companies.
The debate has rocked the Washington cannabis industry since last spring, when outdoor growers who produce marijuana for the extracts market realized they were being undermined. Hearing after hearing, they asked the Liquor and Cannabis Authority to clarify that synthetic THC from hemp – which can be grown in large fields with little regulation and is much cheaper to produce – was not allowed. .
The board eventually did, seizing over 1,600 pounds (726 kilograms) of products made by prominent CannaBusiness Association member Unicorn Brands, a licensed cannabis processor in Raymond. Unicorn imported CBD from hemp growers in Oregon, converted it into delta-9 THC, and added that THC to their vape oil and gummies.
Unicorn owner Peter Saladino is one of the founders of the CannaBusiness Association. He is also a director of a company called Cleen Tech, which manufactures the technology used by Unicorn to convert CBD into THC.
Late last year, Cleen Tech, which had little campaign giving history, made $17,500 in political contributions, including to lawmakers on committees that deal with cannabis issues, disclosure records show. public.
Unicorn, which had nearly $6.9 million in sales in the 12 months before its product was seized, appealed, noting that the council halted operations before issuing its rule banning derivative THC. of synthesis.
The CannaBusiness Association said its members feared the council’s approach would prevent them from competing in a national marijuana market, should Congress legalize the drug.
The board shouldn’t stifle innovation or pick winners and losers in the marketplace, said CannaBusiness Association lobbyist Vicki Christophersen. And, she said, the council’s enforcement efforts remain haphazard and unfair to licensees – despite previous efforts by the Legislative Assembly to address it.
“There is a real need for this agency to evolve, to tackle stereotypes and biases against the industry,” she said. “It is unfortunate that there are tensions between our association and the agency, but we have an obligation to represent our members when they are concerned.
The association proposed another bill this year to “modernize” the council by adding two members, increasing the council’s perspective and installing four lawmakers as non-voting members.
This bill, which Postman saw as retribution, failed. He pointed out that in recent years, the board has issued fewer violation notices and conducted more educational visits to cannabis licensees to help them comply with state rules.
Jim Mullen owns a chain of cannabis retail stores in southwest Washington. He resigned as chairman of the board of the CannaBusiness Association over his position on synthetic THC, although he remains a member.
“We have a lot of farms that are treading water,” Mullen said. “The introduction of this hemp delta-9 is an unfair advantage over the I-502 grower-processors.”