Back in early November, following Texas' short-lived ban on Delta-8 THC, Jersen Abreu noticed some of his customers at In Da Cut Smoke Shop in Miami preparing for the worst.
"People were like, 'You think Florida is going to be next?'" Abreu, whose shop sells vapes, CBD, and the newly popular Delta-8 THC products, tells New Times.
Abreu says that at his small, galaxy-painted store in Glenvar Heights, Delta-8 products are flying off the shelves. The store sells this popular cannabinoid — which is federally legal because it predominantly comes from hemp and not marijuana but approaches the threshold of the 0.3 percent concentration of the federally restricted Delta-9 THC — in a variety of forms, including cartridges, tinctures, and gummies.
But following Texas' legal battle over Delta-8 and a recent bill filed in the Florida Legislature that could restrict the sale of hemp products, including Delta-8 THC, across the state, Abreu has watched as some customers have started stocking up on the product as if it were toilet paper in March 2020.
"They'll buy an extra bag, two bags of gummies, just to hold them down," he says.
Under the bipartisan bill, filed on November 22 by Republican Rep. Spencer Roach and Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned, the state would raise the age limit to buy Delta-8 and CBD products from 18 to 21 and require businesses selling Delta-8 THC to register their products with the state. (Currently, you must be 21 or older to buy hemp products intended for inhalation — but that doesn't include Delta-8 edible products, like tinctures and gummies).
Delta-8 products are some of Abreu's most popular, and he worries about how the legislation could affect his business if it's passed.
Other smoke-shop owners, like Bjorn Johansen, embrace it.
Johansen, whose store VaporFi in Miramar boasts the largest selection of Delta-8 THC in the region, considers the bill to be reasonable and "quite good." His store already enforces a 21-and-over age restriction for hemp extracts, and he believes other shop owners ought to follow suit.
"In other words," Johansen says, "we welcome this regulation. It is needed."
Back in September, the FDA released a warning about Delta-8, cautioning that it carries serious health risks. Between December 2020 and July 2021, national poison-control centers received 660 calls about Delta-8 THC; 41 percent of the callers had taken it unintentionally, and of those, 77 percent were children, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Reported symptoms included vomiting, hallucinations, and loss of consciousness.
That hasn't stopped Delta-8 from growing into a booming industry across South Florida and beyond.
The shelves at VaporFi are stocked with more than 350 Delta-8 products, from blunts to brownies to chocolate chip cookies containing the cannabinoid. Johansen says Delta-8 is one of the most popular products at his store, though he hasn't noticed an uptick in people buying it since Texas' brief ban.
And the FDA's concerns aside, Abreu believes Delta-8 and other hemp products carry medicinal benefits. He says a significant portion of his customers use the product not to get high, but to relieve pain or other health ailments. He says elderly people specifically buy Delta-8 gummies from his store for their insomnia.
If the bill passes, Abreu fears he might see a decline in business, as Delta-8 is one of his top-selling products.
"I hope they don't pass the bill," he says. "It'll be really bad for a lot of companies and a lot of smoke shops."