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Kentucky Senate committee advances bill banning ‘intoxicating’ Delta-8 THC derived from hemp

Katie Moyer (left) and Jon Knarreborg (right) at the Tuesday committee meeting.
Kentucky Legislative Research Commission
Katie Moyer (left) and Jon Knarreborg (right) at the Tuesday committee meeting.

A Kentucky senate committee advanced legislation Tuesday that aims to ban intoxicating products derived from hemp, including a compound getting nationwide attention called Delta-8 THC.

Delta-8 THC is a compound found in low concentrations naturally in hemp and can be synthetically manufactured in higher amounts by converting CBD, a non-intoxicating compound found by hemp that some say has medicinal benefits. Delta-8 THC can get a user “high” similarly to the Delta-9 THC compound found in marijuana. Some hemp farmers have been trying to find a market for extra CBD-rich hemp by synthetically converting it into Delta-8 THC.

During a Kentucky Senate agriculture committee meeting, Kentucky Department of Agriculture General Counsel Joe Bilby told lawmakers the federal Farm Bill in 2018 that legalized hemp production created uncertainty as to whether synthetically-made compounds from hemp like Delta-8 THC were legal.

“The main point of this bill, sir, is to resolve, sweep aside any ambiguity and make clear as a matter of state law, from this point forward intoxicating substances like Delta-8 THC remain prohibited in the Commonwealth,” Bilby said, speaking to GOP State Sen. Jason Howell.

The Kentucky Hemp Association sued the state last year over law enforcement raids of shops selling Delta-8 THC products, arguing the Farm Bill in 2018 legalized the production and sale of Delta-8 THC. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture – which supports the bill sponsored by GOP State Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville – argues the compound is illegal, pointing to how Delta-8 THC is included on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s controlled substances list.

A Boone County Circuit Court judge overseeing the lawsuit issued a temporary junction Monday prohibiting the KDA and the Kentucky State Police from taking or continuing criminal prosecution, revoking hemp licenses or other adverse actions connected to Delta-8 THC.

In the temporary injunction, Judge Richard Brueggemann, in part, argued the state legislature hasn’t explicitly illegalized Delta-8 THC in state law, and that the KDA and the Kentucky State Police are overstepping by going after Delta-8 THC products, an authority not given to the state agencies by the state legislature.

Kentucky Hemp Association President Katie Moyer, speaking before the committee, said the trade organization supports age restrictions and safety regulations on Delta-8 THC, but that an outright ban would hurt Kentucky hemp farmers trying to market hemp and hurt hundreds of retail stores selling products containing the compound.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned last year that the synthetic process utilized to manufacture Delta-8 THC sometimes uses “potentially unsafe household chemicals,” and that the products aren’t approved or evaluated by the FDA.

“We want to be able to show that these are clean products that came from Kentucky farms and that customers and especially law enforcement knows exactly what’s being sold,” Moyer said.

One hemp processing company founder told the committee he would be “forced” to move his business to Tennessee if the Delta-8 THC ban became law. Jon Knarreborg, co-founder of Shyne Labs in Franklin, Kentucky, said his company extracts up to 15,000 pounds of hemp each day and employs younger Kentuckians.

“We believe keeping young talent in Kentucky is instrumental to the growth and innovation in the Commonwealth,” Knarreborg said. “This ban would be catastrophic to the Kentucky hemp farmer, the hemp industry, small businesses and the young workforce.”

In voting to advance the bill to the full Senate, GOP Sen. David Givens of Greensburg responded to Knarreborg asking him to not “close the door too quick” on doing business in Kentucky.

“It’s not easy being an entrepreneur anywhere in the United States,” Givens said. “This is a tough issue for a lot of folks. We’ve got young people we want to protect. We’ve got a product we’re still discovering and learning about.”