emp-derived THC regulation header, america flag with law book and cannabis leaves

Hemp-Derived THC Regulation: An Ongoing Conundrum for Lawmakers

by | Feb 20, 2024

emp-derived THC regulation header, america flag with law book and cannabis leaves

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

The cannabis industry is navigating a tumultuous period, especially with hemp-derived THC products like delta-8 and delta-9 THC. These products have surged in popularity thanks to their unique legal status (or, depending on who you ask, loophole). The market treats hemp-derived THC regulation as separate from traditional marijuana, even if consumers treat them as the same. 

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that this strange in-between market is mired in legal controversies and regulatory challenges — not to mention ethical questions. Is reaching a balanced approach to consumer safety within the current regulatory framework possible? 

new vape technology, vape devices
Hemp Derived THC regulation has a particular impact on the vape market.

The legal battle unfolding in Georgia has cast a spotlight on the ways brands are selling hemp-derived THC as legal, simply because they were originally sourced from hemp. 

A lawsuit filed against 12 cannabis companies alleges that they misled consumers by marketing delta-9 THC and delta-8 THC products as legal hemp derivatives when, in reality, these products contained THC levels exceeding the federally mandated 0.3% threshold. 

For anyone who has been around the traditional cannabis sector for a while, many of the names on the lawsuit will be all too familiar:

  • Cookies
  • Cloud 9
  • Green Rush
  • Element Vape
  • Savage Enterprises
  • Delta Extrax
  • L&K Distribution
  • Columbia Laboratories
  • PharmLabs
  • Encore
  • Pur ISO Labs

It’s also a demonstration that even well-established companies, like STIIIZY and Cookies, are using hemp-derived THC as a means to enter states without open recreational markets.

High Times reports that the lawsuit accuses these companies of engaging in “a pattern of racketeering activity” to distribute illegal THC vape pens under the guise of legality​​. This case is emblematic of broader issues within the industry, where the lack of transparency and ethical marketing practices can jeopardize consumer trust and safety.

Regulatory Responses Just Getting Started

In response to the controversy, states like Florida and Missouri are tightening regulations on hemp-derived THC products. 

Florida’s legislative move to ban delta-8 products in February 2023 was driven by unanimous senate support, reflecting a growing consensus from lawmakers about the need to protect consumers from potentially unsafe products​​. 

Similarly, Missouri’s legislative efforts, led by State Sen. Nick Schroer, aim to bring these products under the regulatory purview of the Department of Health and Senior Services, emphasizing a unified approach to THC product regulation​​. 

Other states, including Minnesota, Louisiana, Kentucky, South Dakota, Virginia, and Vermont, among others have also chosen to regulate hemp derived cannabinoids — to varying degrees of success.

dispensary, hemp-derived THC retailer
Entire markets are at risk of going up in smoke if regulators crack down on retailers selling hemp-derived products.

Farmers, Retailers, and Patients Argue Against More Regulation

Florida’s hemp business community and consumers have voiced apprehensions about the implications of such regulations, fearing the potential for stifling industry growth and limiting access to therapeutic products​​. 

As Jammie Treadwell, co-owner of Treadwell Farms, stated to the committee, “We feel like you’re pulling the rug completely out from under us, and it’s not just me.” Her family has been farming for more than 100 years and has been farming hemp since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

In Missouri, industry veterans like Vince Sanders argue against burdening the marijuana regulatory system with additional responsibilities, suggesting that such an approach could hinder rather than help the industry​​. 

As reported by the Springfield News-Leader, Sanders said, “This is not a substance that needs to be regulated by the marijuana industry. As you’ve said, it’s a very clunky system. They’re struggling to govern what they have. To load more on their plate would be a nearly impossible thing. So if you really want the marijuana industry to thrive, I definitely think you wouldn’t put it on there either.” 

Recent studies have unveiled initial insights into American consumption patterns of hemp-derived cannabinoids, revealing a notable trend: 25.2% of adults have used various emerging cannabinoids, including delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), over the past year. What will happen to these consumers when their legal source folds or moves due to an over-zealous crackdown?

The Path Forward: Is Hemp-Derived THC Regulation the Right Approach?

The situation in Georgia, Florida, and Missouri is just a tiny peek into the broader national debate surrounding hemp-derived THC regulation. As the industry grapples with these challenges, the path forward isn’t clear. 

Success would require a collaborative approach that engages all stakeholders—regulators, businesses, and consumers—in meaningful dialogue. But is this possible?

The ultimate goal should be to ensure the responsible growth of the hemp-derived THC product market and uphold the highest standards of consumer protection and product integrity. But, it’s impossible to deny how the hemp-derived market is just a symptom of the lack of federal clarity on the traditional THC market. Would delta-9 THC, delta-8-THC, and other derivatives even exist if traditional cannabis was regulated (even legalized) at a federal level?