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Feb. 13, 2024 |  By: Rebecca Rivas - Missouri Independent

Push for restrictions on intoxicating hemp products spurs clash over who should regulate


By Rebecca Rivas - Missouri Independent

Missouri lawmakers have heard hours of heated testimony at two hearings in the last week over bills aiming to regulate intoxicating hemp products that get people high the same as marijuana.

Currently there’s no state or federal law saying teenagers or children can’t buy products, such as delta-8 drinks, or that stores can’t sell them to minors — though some stores and vendors have taken it upon themselves to impose age restrictions of 21 and up. 

And there’s no requirement to list potential effects on the label or test how much THC is actually in them.

“There’s zero reason why these THC products should not be treated like any other THC product in our state,” said state Sen. Nick Schroer, a Republican from Defiance, during a Monday Senate committee hearing. 

The legislation’s proponents and opponents both agree the state should regulate the existing “Wild West” market for intoxicating hemp products.

The debate, however, is over whether the agency that oversees the state’s marijuana program, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, should regulate these hemp products. 

If DHSS is put in charge, the products would have to be sold at DHSS-licensed dispensaries. 

That’s what is proposed in legislation sponsored by Schroer and in the House filed by state Rep. Chad Perkins, a Bowling Green Republican. 

“Similar to alcohol, one regulatory body covers all intoxicating liquors and alcohol, such as beer, bourbon, wine, moonshine, brandy and even hooch,” said Schroer, who chairs the legislative committee that oversees Missouri’s marijuana rules. 

Opponents contend restricting hemp-derived THC products to be sold at the dispensaries would allow the “marijuana monopoly” to take over the market, given the limited number of licenses for dispensaries available. 

They argue there should be a separate regulating system in place for intoxicating hemp products that would allow them to continue to be sold in gas stations and liquor stores. 

“The nub of the issue you’re going to find is… where do you sell these products?” said Ronald Leone, executive director of Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. “Everybody agrees with the reasonable regulation and the reasonable taxation. The question is: Who do you allow to take advantage of this new and burgeoning market?”

Proponents said it’s “duplicative” to have a separate state agency regulating the hemp products, which are chemically identical to marijuana.

“What this bill does is it just clearly says: If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, we’re gonna regulate it like a duck,” said Chris Lindsey, a lobbyist with the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp.

Why aren’t they regulated now?

Hemp is often known for being the part of the cannabis plant that doesn’t get people high.  It’s full of CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that helps people relax and is often found in massage oils and sleep aids.

But much has changed since hemp was taken off the controlled substance list in 2018 by the last U.S. Agriculture Improvement Act, more commonly known as the farm bill. 

Now state regulators can barely keep up with the constantly evolving ways that people have found to make intoxicating products from hemp. Probably the most common way is to synthetically convert CBD into an intoxicating cannabinoid, such as delta-8 THC or delta-9 THC, using a solvent, acid, and heat.

The market for things like delta-8 drinks and edibles is one of the fastest growing markets in the country, and it’s completely unregulated on a federal and state level.

The FDA has said the regulation needs to happen, and the agency is “prepared to work with Congress on this matter.” 

Missouri does not have a regulating agency for hemp. The state punted that regulation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2022. A USDA spokesperson previously told The Independent the 2018 Farm Bill did not specifically address delta-8 and the USDA has no jurisdiction or enforcement capabilities over those products.

During the hearing of Schroer’s bill Monday, opponents and proponents both agreed that Congress did not intend to legalize intoxicating hemp products by taking hemp off the controlled substance list through the farm bill. 

Vince Sanders, founder and president of CBD American Shaman, testified he was in the conversations for the 2018 farm bill.

“It was definitely unintended, including myself,” Sanders said. “But just because it was accidental, if you will, doesn’t mean that it necessarily ended up bad.”

Sean Hackmann, president of the Missouri Hemp Trade Association, testified Monday that Schroer’s bill would destroy many hemp businesses.

“We’re in favor of legislation that will assure product and consumer safety and allow it to be sold as it is successfully now in hundreds of retail locations,” he said. 

However, health officials said Monday the number of cases of children being poisoned from the intoxicating hemp products is alarming.

Julie Weber, director of the Missouri Poison Center at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, said the number of children under 5 years old who have been exposed to the products has more than doubled every year, with 205 exposures last year. 

“It’s the packaging as well that’s a big concern,” Weber said “It’s attractive, has bright colors, mimics foods and candy. It also has cartoon figures on there.” 

During a House hearing last week, Perkins brought in a photo of a bag of delta-8 edibles that looked like a bag of Skittles.

“Trust me when I tell you, I’m a professional Skittles eater from way back,” Perkins said. “I cannot tell the difference, and that’s problematic.”

The constitutional amendment that legalized adult-use marijuana in November 2022 requires that labels and packaging for marijuana-related products, “shall not be made to be attractive to children… to protect public health.”

As a result, strict restrictions on what marijuana companies can include on a label were put in place this year. Those restrictions don’t exist for the intoxicating hemp products. 

“We’re talking about improving health and safety,” Perkins said. “And we’re talking about offering businesses a way in which they can participate in a legalized framework.”