Vt. cracks down on producers of psychoactive hemp byproduct

Vermont is among a dozen states that are cracking down on Delta-8, a psychoactive compound processed from hemp.
Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 7:32 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 29, 2021 at 5:15 AM EDT
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MILTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont is among a dozen states that are cracking down on Delta-8, a psychoactive compound processed from hemp that agriculture officials say is not allowed under state law.

When hemp became legal, a frenzy of producers flocked to the industry to make CBD products. But with supply outstripping demand, some processors then began trying to use hemp for other means, including processing Delta-8, a cannabis compound containing THC that is illegal.

Sean O’Hearn, the director of operations at Newton Hill Labs in Milton, specializes in processing hemp into CBD oil, a compound in cannabis that does not have psychoactive effects. But in recent years he and other processors through a chemical process called isomerization, have also been creating Delta-8, which can be ingested through vaporizers and gummies, though some disagree on whether it’s weaker than marijuana. “We’re taking the same thing but causing a little bit of a molecular shift,” O’Hearn said.

But last week, The Vermont Agency of Agriculture said the creation, possession, of sale of Delta-8 violates the state law banning synthetic cannabinoids in hemp products. “We’re using the term synthetic with respect to it’s not naturally occurring,” said Stephanie Smith, the state’s cannabis quality control policy administrator. She says the state is following the federal drug enforcement administration, which classifies Delta-8 as a schedule I drug. “We also determined based on the definition of the term cannabinoid and another section of our rules that manufacturing a cannabinoid that is not naturally occurring in the plant would qualify four our purposes as a synthetic cannabinoid,” said Smith.

On its website, the Ag agency acknowledges that hemp naturally produces Delta-8 in trace amounts. But it also says Delta-8 can be synthetically made from hemp in a process called isomerization, which converts CBD to THC through a chemical process. “Manufacturing delta-8-THC from CBD has become a way to create a psychoactive substance under the guise of being derived from legally produced hemp, which by definition does not have high concentrations of psychoactive cannabinoids,” stated a bulletin from the Agency of Agriculture last week.

O’Hearn and others in the Delta-8 industry disagree with the state’s determination. He also worries the state’s action will deter farmers, processors, and retailers from setting up shop in Vermont and instead take their businesses to surrounding states that haven’t banned Delta-8. “We’re trying to keep our business alive, we’re trying to keep jobs in Vermont, and we’re trying to move forward. And if we go to New York, New Hampshire, or Massachusetts, all totally doable...” O’Hearn said.

Until now, Delta-8′s legality has been hazy, as the 2018 farm bill allowed people to grow and process and sell hemp and its byproducts in states where cannabis is banned.

Cannabis advocates describe Delta-8 as a bridge for the industry to keep them afloat until they can take part in the taxed and regulated market next year. “These retailers are trying to stick around long enough until they can legally sell the plants. I think there are some negative impacts on businesses and retailers who won’t be able to use this anymore,” said Eli Harrington with Greenbridge Consulting.

The ag agency’s Smith says the discussion could change when the cannabis control board, the group tasked with rolling out the state’s retail market, is confirmed.

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