Hemp industry wins loophole on THC intoxication


While most of the attention on THC intoxication has been on House Bill 1317, the hemp industry finds itself in the position of being left out. And they’re good with that.

House Bill 1317 is a wide-ranging measure seeking to study the effects of high-potency THC products on the developing brain and keep those products out of the hands of teenagers. It would do that by dropping the daily purchase limits on marijuana concentrates for both medical patients and recreational consumers to eight grams per day, down from the 40-gram threshold adults are currently allowed to possess. To enforce that new limit, the bill seeks to update the Metrc seed-to-sale tracking system to track purchases in real time.

At issue is a different kind of THC, known as Delta-8.

Delta-9 is the psychotropic agent in medical and recreational marijuana. Delta-8, however, is something you find in hemp that isn’t quite as intoxicating as Delta-9.

The hemp products containing Delta-8 are unregulated in Colorado. Delta-8 products, including edibles, are sold over the counter and in non-marijuana dispensary locations, like convenience stores, according to Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

Coram is one of the Senate sponsors on House Bill 1301, a bill that is intended to regulate outdoor cultivation of cannabis. But on the third reading Thursday, Coram added an amendment that said it is illegal to sell or distribute products containing “intoxicating cannabinoids,” including Delta-8, Delta-9 and Delta-10 tetrahydrocannabinol (another psychotropic found in hemp edibles). 

That did not go over well with one of the House sponsors of HB 1301, House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, who convened a conference committee Friday to get the amendment out of the bill. The committee voted 5-1 to take the amendment out, with Coram voting “no” and a reluctant Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, voting “yes.”

Esgar complained that she was blindsided by the amendment. But that amendment isn’t exactly a stranger in the House; it had been tried with House Bill 1317 but rejected because it did not fit under the bill title.

Coram told the conference committee that Delta-8 and Delta-10 can get someone very high. He read testimony from someone who tried edible gummies, and while the person got high, it wasn’t as intense as the high from smoking marijuana with Delta-9. It’s 50% to 75% of the potency of Delta-9, he said. “This hemp product needs to be regulated.”

He added that he was concerned that the good intentions of HB 1301 would be the end of the outdoor marijuana industry.

Two state poison centers, in Michigan and West Virginia, have issued poison alerts in recent months about Delta-8, including its effects on adults and children, and that it is marketed as a “legal high.” The Michigan alert spoke of two children in a neighboring state, which they did not identify, who got into their father’s products and had to be admitted to an intensive care unit because of low blood pressure, slowed heart rates, sedation and slow breathing.

Last month, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, along with the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, issued an alert to producers that contained a ban on Delta-8, Delta-9 and Delta-10 in food, cosmetics and dietary supplements. The alert was silent on concentrates, which are sold in dispensaries and some businesses marketed as herbal and vitamin shops. The Food and Drug Administration does not allow products with THC and/or CBD to be marketed as dietary supplements.

Esgar chastised Coram for the amendment, pointing out that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Marijuana Enforcement Division within the Department of Revenue is working on a Delta-8 stakeholder process, starting on June 7. 

Esgar appeared annoyed with the amendment coming in so late in the game, with no conversation with the stakeholders (or with the sponsors). She acknowledged concerns that Delta-8 is a public health concern and that she heard its exclusion has created a loophole for the hemp industry. That’s something Esgar said she is willing to work on in the interim, possibly in a bill next year. But it doesn’t belong in this bill, she said.

Among the conference committee members was Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, a pediatrician and one of the sponsors of HB 1317. She also voted in favor of stripping out the amendment on hemp.

“I’m fully committed to seeing what CDPHE does with this process and addressing next year if we need to.”

Samantha Walsh, the vice president of the board of the Colorado Hemp Association, told Colorado Politics that “we’re all concerned about these products and that they’re regulated safely.” She added that there are questions about the science and what qualifies as intoxication under the non-Delta-9 cannabinoids found in hemp. “We want proper regulation,” Walsh said. Colorado has been a leader in regulating the market, and black market solutions will always appear when prohibition is the answer, she added; arbitrary science is not the answer, either. 

Tyler Mounsey, representing former state Rep. Sal Pace of Pueblo, now chair of Marijuana Policy Project’s board of directors, said that Pace was behind the year-long stakeholder engagement on the outdoor cannabis group. “To see something come out of left field” gave pause to how the bill would progress, he said. While Pace was neutral on the amendment, he also didn’t want to lose the “kumbaya” feel that came out of the stakeholder process, Mounsey said.

House Bill 1301 is now awaiting action on the conference committee report.

This story will be updated.


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