In late March, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson strode to a lectern in the Florida Capitol with a stern warning.
Florida’s hemp products are dangerously unregulated, Simpson said, with some operators marketing products to children meant to produce a drug high. He wanted a legislative fix, and he saw answers in HB 1475 and SB 1676.
“Some will say this bill will end the hemp industry,” Simpson said. “The current wild, wild West situation, selling anything to anyone, is going to end. We will close the loopholes in state law being exploited to sell euphoric recreational cannabis products without restrictions.”
Simpson pointed to delta-8 products in particular, a range of hemp-based offerings popular with consumers and unpopular with those skeptical of legal cannabis.
What’s going on with the Legislature and delta-8? Could certain hemp products soon be outlawed?
Here are four questions about the future of delta-8 in Florida, answered.
1. What is delta-8?
Get ready for some light chemistry. Delta-8 is shorthand for delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-8 THC. Cannabinoids like THC are naturally occurring compounds in cannabis plants, the most famous of which is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. That’s what marijuana users most commonly think of as THC, and it’s the component in marijuana products that gives off euphoric effects.
Delta-8 is a naturally occurring chemical cousin of delta-9. Products altered to be heavy in delta-8 became in vogue following the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which legalized hemp-based products across the country as long as they contained less than 0.3% delta-9 THC. (This change also made cannabidiol, or CBD products, legal for consumers.)
Products containing high amounts of delta-8, including joints and edible gummies, have become a staple of the American hemp industry in recent years, and Florida is no exception.
2. What is the controversy over delta-8?
More than a dozen states have banned the sale of delta-8 products, according to NBC News. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put out a warning about delta-8, writing that poison control centers dealt with nearly 2,400 toxic exposure cases related to the products in a little more than a year.
The controversy over delta-8 comes when discussing what exactly the drug does and to whom it is marketed. Some users have reported that for them, delta-8 produced effects similar to traditional marijuana, meaning consumers can get high without buying from a dispensary or registering as a medical patient. Others are concerned about products that appear to be marketed to children — 41% of those FDA-reported poison control calls were pediatric cases.
In Florida, hemp products are regulated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Marijuana products are regulated by the Department of Health. Marijuana consumers have to get a doctor’s referral to shop at a dispensary. Hemp consumers don’t.
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Some lawmakers say euphoria-producing products should be left to the medical marijuana industry.
“I actually want to call this bill the ‘stay in your lane’ bill,” said Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, at the March news conference. “You have a medical marijuana system in one lane and you have a hemp system in another lane, and the lanes have gotten mixed together.”
3. What exactly do the bills do?
Initially, both bills limited the total amount of tetrahydrocannabinol allowed to be present in hemp products. That meant joints, edibles and other products wouldn’t have to just fall under the federal 0.3% delta-9 THC threshold, they would have to fall under additional state-level thresholds for all kinds of THC. (Hemp products can also have delta-10 and delta-11 THC.)
Critics of those limits include former Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who helped build the current regulations around hemp. She said today’s rules around which hemp products could be sold are sufficient and federally approved. She said if lawmakers put further regulations on hemp products, it would show they had it out for the hemp industry.
“The intent of these bills is to limit this program after a tremendously successful few years of creating jobs, opportunities and relief for patients across the state,” Fried said.
The hemp industry was also staunchly opposed to these provisions in the bills, with business owners saying that restrictions on the sale of popular products are unnecessary.
“This is an enforcement issue more than a regulatory issue,” said Carlos Hermida, who runs Chillum Mushroom and Hemp Dispensary in Tampa.
Some in the hemp industry accused the Legislature of working to effectively shield the powerful medical marijuana industry from competition. Hermida sent strongly worded email blasts to journalists about how the bills would mean the death of Florida’s hemp industry. Business owners flocked to Tallahassee to testify against the bills.
Other parts of the legislation got less pushback, including those that imposed restrictions on the packaging of hemp products to ensure they’re not sold to children, and those that barred sales of these products to people younger than 21.
4. What happened with the bills?
Last week, Robinson, the House sponsor, filed an amendment to his bill that stripped it of the provision that would have curtailed the availability of delta-8 products.
“There is more work to be done in this space, but this bill is a great indication that our committee process works,” Robinson said at a House committee meeting Monday. “It’s very important to take input in from stakeholders.”
Simpson wrote in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that the legislation is “a strong and important first step.”
“Cracking down on deceptive packaging, and keeping these products that have not been analyzed or approved by the FDA away from children, is an approach that I have supported from day one,” Simpson said.
The Senate bill is set to be heard in its final committee on Thursday.
The change in the House bill was a welcome surprise for the hemp industry.
“It looks like we got everything we asked for,” wrote Hermida in a text message Monday. “It’s almost too good to be true.”