Some Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly are trying to ban the sale of a popular derivative of hemp at concentrated levels that can give users a high.
Delta-8 THC, called “weed light” by some, essentially gives a weaker high than marijuana. A derivative of the compound has been selling briskly at hemp and CBD shops around the state in the form of gummies, candy and wax concentrate, thanks to a legal gray area in current state and federal law.
Marijuana is illegal in Indiana and federally, but the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill legalized hemp, which is defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3% Delta-9 THC or less. Indiana also changed its law to match the federal statute.
Neither law addresses the levels of Delta-8 THC that can be contained in retail products, an omission hemp industry advocates have said creates a legal loophole for vendors to sell the compound derived from hemp.
A provision added to Senate Bill 209 would close the loophole and likely ban most Delta-8 products currently on the market, the bill’s authors said. The legislation would limit the level of THC in all retail products to 0.3%.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical component of cannabis that gets someone high.
Bill author Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, said he supported the provision being added to his bill because it came at the urging of the Indiana State Police and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council over concerns about the product’s safety.
The State Police declined to comment on pending legislation, and the prosecutors council did not immediately respond to IBJ’s request for comment.
Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, said she offered the amendment to SB 209l out of concern over the product’s safety.
She cited a case reported by the Bloomington Herald-Times in which an Indiana University student facing rape and other charges claimed he took two Delta-8 gummies before the incident and thought it was a dream.
“My goal was, yes, to not allow those products because they sound very dangerous,” Brown said.
Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control both issued warnings about the drug. The FDA noted that Delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated nor approved by the agency for safe use in any context, citing concerns in the product’s marketing and some processes used to convert it from cannabinoids.
But the owners of the shops selling the products argue Delta-8 provides relief more than danger.
Alex Ostrovsky is co-owner of High Grade Smoke Shop, formerly known as Vape and Wellness, a chain of four CBD and vape shops in Hamilton County.
He said the shops have sold thousands of Delta-8 products, with no negative reviews. Customers have had success with the more-potent product treating pain, anxiety or helping with sleep.
“It’s providing, you know, 10s of 1000s of Hoosiers, if not more, relief,” Ostrovsky said.
Though Delta-8 makes up about a quarter of the shop’s sales, Ostrovsky said he is not too concerned with the language in SB 209 because he thinks the industry is used to adapting to changing regulations.
“The industry just rapidly reacts to any kind of regulation,” Ostrovsky said. “It just seems like every year we’ll be kind of facing something new potentially.”
Justin Swanson, a hemp lobbyist and president of the Midwest Hemp Council, fears the legislation could have more catastrophic effects on hemp and CBD stores, diminishing profits and forcing some to close.
He said Delta-8 products that could meet the 0.3% guidelines would be virtually unsellable because they would no longer provide the relief consumers want.
“If you’re a standalone like CBD or vape shop, if you ask them what percent of their income comes from Delta-8 products, it’s going to be upwards of 50 to 75%,” Swanson said. “This will shut down these retailers in the state if it passes.”
Swanson said he is also concerned the legislation could impact THC levels in CBD products already on the market.
Young said that was not the case because he checked with the state police and prosecutors council to make sure the language in SB 209 would not affect CBD products.
Young’s bill cleared the Republican-dominated Senate last week on a 36-12 vote and now awaits action in the GOP-controlled House.
The Senate’s support of Young’s bill reflects a broad Republican desire to keep marijuana and anything like it illegal in Indiana as long as the federal government does. The Indiana Democratic Party has called for the legalization of marijuana, noting that many other states already have.