Fond of Delta-8-infused beverages, vape cartridges, or edibles?
You might want to stock up because Florida could soon join a laundry list of states that heavily restrict the sale of popular hemp-derived Delta-8 THC products.
Two bills moving through the Florida legislature are proposing tight caps on the amount of psychoactive cannabinoids, including Delta-8, in products commonly sold in smoke shops, gas stations, herbal bars, and convenience stores. If passed, the days of running to the corner store and grabbing a can of Delta-8-laden refreshments could be a thing of the past.
Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol is the chemical cousin of the more widely known "THC" that is often referred to as the active ingredient that gets people stoned from marijuana. While the amount of standard THC in consumable products is tightly regulated, Delta-8 is a slightly different compound and can be infused into various items in Florida without being subject to the same rules. It's often produced from hemp, a cannabis plant that is low in the traditional THC compound and has therefore been used historically for industrial purposes like textile production.
Smoke shop owners and producers of Delta-8 products fear the new legislation will punch a gaping hole in their revenue.
"This will be absolutely devastating to the entire industry," says Bjorn Johansen, the owner of VaporFi in Miramar. "The limitations that they're proposing in this bill will basically clean out our shelves."
Johansen tells New Times his store has about 400 different hemp-derived products including Delta-8 and full spectrum cannabidiol (CBD). He says the new restrictions amount to a ban on the over-the-counter sale of Delta-8.
"[CBD isolate products] will be the only products that we will be able to keep on the shelf and those frankly are not very popular," Johansen adds. "The effect is very weak so the only ones asking for it are people who can't have any kind of THC in their body."
One of the dozens of cannabinoid compounds naturally present in cannabis, Delta-8 has intoxicating effects when present in high enough concentration. Because natural levels of Delta-8 can be low in plant material, producers of Delta-8 products typically obtain a concentrated form of it by chemically processing extracts from hemp.
State senator Colleen Burton of Lakeland and state representative Will Robinson of Manatee County, who introduced the bills, claim that the measures are aimed at closing a loophole that allowed intoxicating beverages and foods containing cannabinoids to be sold freely in Florida. They say their legislation will help prevent juveniles from getting their hands on and guzzling Delta-8 products. (The bills include a clause that would make it illegal to sell any consumable hemp-derived product, regardless of cannabinoid content, to those under 21 years old.)
The legislation is being backed by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson.
"While many legitimate agriculture businesses grow and produce quality hemp products, there are deceptive practices that are putting Florida’s children and adults at risk," said Simpson in announcing the bills. "Just because a product is profitable doesn’t mean it is safe. We can promote agriculture while also keeping consumers safe, and this bill is a great first step in accomplishing that goal."
Delta-8 has become increasingly popular since the passage of the 2018 federal Farm Bill, which legalized hemp. The bill limited the amount of standard THC in hemp to 0.3 percent but did not specifically mention Delta-8. States have since been looking to crack down by instituting age requirements, redefining THC to include alternate cannabinoids, and enacting safety and marketing regulations.
"SB 1676 and HB 1475 simply create a regulatory framework for the safe production and sale of products made with hemp extract," Burton said at a March 22 press conference alongside a poster showcasing "High THC Products Masquerading as Hemp."
The bills would cap the total amount of THC isomers in consumable hemp products to 0.5 milligrams per serving and 2 milligrams per package, reducing the presence of compounds like Delta-8 and Delta-10 to non-intoxicating levels.
Irina Tamarova and Karen Cohen of Happy Hemp say some regulation is necessary to ensure safety and integrity in the industry.
"As someone who consumes CBD, Delta-8, and everything in the space, I want it to be regulated, manufactured, grown, and sold in the proper way," Tamarova tells New Times. "If that means that these Wild, Wild West companies that just slap a label on a bag go away, I am happy with that."
Johansen agrees it is a valid concern that kids could accidentally eat an edible given that some products in the market "are made to look very much like candy." Yet, he questions if there are other unwritten motivations behind the crackdown on Delta-8.
"I don't know where these figures came from, but I see that very similar bills have been introduced in several other states. I'm sure it's not the state senator from Lakeland that put forward this proposal — she is not the one who has actually written this. It comes from someone else and I'm sure that you can probably guess who."
Johansen's not-so-subtle insinuation is that the bills are a tool by the major players that control the state's medical marijuana industry to try and wipe out competitors who are selling cannabis-derived psychoactive products.
"...They are trying to clear the playing field with the anticipation that recreational marijuana products are going to be legalized here in Florida within a couple of years," Johansen suggests. "They want to get rid of all competition before that. They are basically trying to set the scene where they can own the recreational market when it opens up."
While some state oversight is important, Cohen says, she does not want over-regulation that would box out small businesses.
In the first few years of the Florida medical marijuana program, pricey application fees and regulations that favored huge, legacy farming operations put control of the industry into the hands of a few powerful companies — a situation Cohen would rather not see repeated as the state's cannabis law evolves.
"Allow mom and pops to exist," Cohen argues. "Allow them to follow the rules and regulations that they set forth. It doesn't need to be a giant conglomerate."