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Texas medical cannabis distributor calls for regulations of CBD market

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The CEO of Texas’ largest medical cannabis distributor is urging leaders to regulate the state’s CBD market, citing concerns over health issues related to hemp-derived products such as delta-8 and delta-9 THC.

Delta-8 and delta-9 THC are compounds closely related to the psychoactive compound in marijuana that gets users “high.” It’s legal in most states after Congress passed the 2018 farm bill, which had an unintended loophole due to how lawmakers defined “hemp” while legalizing it.

Nico Richardson, CEO of Texas Original, points to increasing reports of young patients experiencing adverse effects and growing drug-related offenses in schools as reasons for more regulation of hemp-derived products.

He is one of the three marijuana distributors in Texas able to operate under the state’s limited medical cannabis program, also known as the Compassionate Use Program, which is regulated heavily by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Qualifying patients can get a low-level prescription from a limited group of approved doctors in the state. Currently, patients with conditions like cancer, PTSD, ALS and epilepsy can get prescribed THC.

While Richardson’s company would benefit from a more regulated CBD market, he said there are health and safety concerns that “every parent” should worry about, since there are no age restrictions on products like delta-8.

“If we want to have an open recreational market in Texas, I think we should legalize that in the appropriate way and have the appropriate testing measures and appropriate age gating. So that we’re not willy-nilly distributing highly intoxicating products to school kids, which is unfortunately what is happening right now in Texas,” he said.

A new study published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows 1 in 10 high school seniors report using delta-8 THC. Richardson says the easy access, as it is sold in gas stations and CBD smoke shops across the state, is what is concerning to him as a parent.

“This is a complex issue. This is not a simple issue,” Richardson said. “But we don’t know what the long-term health effects of this are going to be. Especially on underage kids.”

Lisa Pittman, a cannabis attorney in Austin, said there are vast complexities in the laws and regulations of CBD products across the country, after the U.S. Farm Bill redefined hemp, making various derivatives of hemp legal.

The 2018 farm bill defines hemp as cannabis and “any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers.”

Regulatory patchwork across states

Delta-8 is outlawed in 17 different states, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association. While it is legal in Texas, pending litigation could impact its ability to be sold and consumed in the Lone Star State. Pittman said the patchwork of regulations on a state-by-state basis has made oversight of CBD products more difficult.

“The state health departments have had to come up with their own rules for these types of products, and while there is regulation on the books, the products are supposed to meet certain testing thresholds,” she said. “The oversight, the inspection of this is pretty loose, there’s just way too much volume for the regulators to keep up with and the stuff is coming from all over the country.”

Difference between delta-8 and marijuana

Delta-8 THC products come in a variety of forms — including gummies, or edible treats like chocolate, as well as vaping cartridges and infused drinks. Some manufacturers market it as a treatment for medical conditions similar to the usage of medical cannabis, but the Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated or approved delta-8 for medical ailments.

The Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings regarding the possible use of unsafe chemicals in the conversion of CBD into delta-8 and delta-9.

“Sometimes it can come from a sketchy source that’s just pumping out a high volume of something popular, and they don’t care what’s in it. And who knows what kind of solvents and other types of chemicals are in these products, who knows if [or] how they’re tested,” Pittman said.

While Texas lawmakers cannot enact changes until 2025, discussions in Congress — particularly regarding the Farm Bill’s definitions currently up for renegotiation — could impact regulations sooner.

“There is some bathtub gin out there and it’s gonna be a while until we get to the Coors and Budweiser of cannabis,” Pittman said. “That is where it is eventually heading on much the same regulatory pathway.”

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