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Kentucky bill would ban 'intoxicating' hemp products amid Delta-8 debate

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Liam Niemeyer, Ohio Valley ReSource
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A bill in the Kentucky state senate would ban “intoxicating” compounds derived from hemp, including one that’s seen increasing popularity and scrutiny across the country: Delta-8 THC.

Delta-8 THC is a naturally occurring compound in hemp in low concentrations. It can be manufactured in higher amounts by synthetically converting a better-known non-intoxicating compound, CBD, into Delta-8 THC. Generally, the compound can create a “high” somewhat milder compared to Delta-9 THC in marijuana.

Hemp farmers in recent years, including in Kentucky, have flooded the market with CBD-rich hemp following the legalization of the crop in the federal Farm Bill in 2018, only to see prices for CBD – and the hemp grown to create the compound – tumble from the supply glut. Some hemp farmers have capitalized on a business opportunity to convert excess CBD into Delta-8 THC.

The Farm Bill passed in 2018 defined any hemp product consisting of 0.3% of Delta-9 THC or less as a legal product, not explicitly addressing Delta-8 THC and other compounds from cannabis. It’s left the legal status of Delta-8 THC in Kentucky and other states in limbo, something that Republican State Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville is trying to address.

Hornback’s bill would ban Delta-8 THC along with other “intoxicating” products made from hemp. The Republican said he’s worried about the lack of regulations regarding the synthetic process to create Delta-8 THC, claiming that the process can make the compound “toxic.”

“I'm all for diversifying agriculture and doing anything we can with new crops and stuff to raise ag income, but to risk the public safety is not the correct thing to do,” Hornback said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Sept. 2021 issued a warning about the “potentially unsafe household chemicals” sometimes used in converting CBD into Delta-8 THC, along with how Delta-8 manufacturing may happen in “uncontrolled or unsanitary settings, which may lead to the presence of unsafe contaminants or other potentially harmful substances.”

Hornback said the Kentucky Department of Agriculture provided the language for the introduced bill. A Kentucky Department of Agriculture spokesperson did not make someone available for an interview. The department pointed to a memo the department published in April 2021 that stated Delta-8 THC was illegal under federal law, citing a controlled substances list that includes the compound.

But leaders in the Kentucky hemp industry have been pushing back on that interpretation. The Kentucky Hemp Association sued the state last year after law enforcement raided shops carrying Delta-8 THC products. The organization argued that the compound was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Kentucky Hemp Association President Katie Moyer said she doesn’t support Hornback’s bill as written and that the prohibition of Delta-8 THC would only create an unsafe black market for such products: “Do we let Kentucky hemp farmers and Kentucky manufacturers produce it where we can regulate it and make sure it's clean, and it goes through the food safety standards?”

Moyer said she wants to work with Hornback on altering the bill to potentially implement regulations, such as limiting access to Delta-8 products to minors.

“What we are planning on doing is coming to the table with a more workable bill that would not drive the hemp industry into bankruptcy,” Moyer said. “But at the same time, give this handful of people the confidence that they need to know that teenagers aren't going to be able to get a hold of Delta-8.”

Sen. Hornback said he’s not planning on moving the bill quickly and wants to learn about Delta-8 and its effects.