Delta-8 bill pulled after testimony, sponsors vow to try again tomorrow

A confusing day of testimony over the future of Delta-8 THC products and other products derived from hemp ended Wednesday afternoon with the bill’s sponsors vowing to make things clearer and try again tomorrow. 

Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R-Paragould) and Sen. Tyler Dees (R-Siloam Springs) presented Senate Bill 358 to the House Rules Committee after it had already cleared the Senate by an overwhelming 33-1 margin. 

The bill’s easy path to passage hit some potholes in recent days after hemp advocates raised concerns that the bill would ban CBD, the non-psychoactive component of hemp that is available in lotions, mouth drops and more in a variety of stores across the state and is widely sold on the internet. 

The bill would ban Delta-8 THC products unless a court ruling strikes down such a ban, the sponsors said. In that case, a “trigger” would take effect and Arkansas would regulate Delta-8 THC products, possibly requiring CBD sellers to obtain permits at a cost of $5,000.

Committee members expressed confusion over the permit fees, who would pay them and whether those would be new fees or if they already exist. 

“I think I’m more confused than I was, I’m not going to lie,” committee chair DeAnn Vaught (R-Horatio) said.

Soon thereafter, the sponsors said they would pull their bill down for the day to make it clearer. Vaught said the bill would be on the agenda for tomorrow’s noon meeting. 

The sponsors began their presentation by adding an amendment to the bill to ensure that it would not ban CBD. The sponsors said their intent was to ban Delta-8 products, which have existed in a legal gray area since Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill. That measure legalized hemp and defined hemp as cannabis plants with a THC content of .3% or less. Before adding the amendment, SB358 defined hemp-derived products as those with more than .1% THC, which contributed to the confusion.  

Delta-8 occurs in small amounts in hemp plants and can also be created by applying certain processes to CBD, which is abundant in hemp plants, according to Fort Smith attorney Amy Martin, who testified alongside Gazaway and Dees. Martin said her family owns The Greenery medical marijuana dispensary in Fort Smith.  

Delta-8 is similar to the Delta-9 THC that is sold in the state’s dispensaries and is regulated by the state Medical Marijuana Commission and the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division. 

A number of people testified against the bill Wednesday, saying they did not want to ban CBD, with many saying they have benefited from the therapeutic effects of Delta-8 products. 

One woman testified alongside her small child who she said had cancer and had benefited from using Delta-8 products. 

Missy Bosch, a frequent conservative voice at the legislature and elsewhere, said her child had also benefited from using Delta-8 products.

Dr. Brian Nichol, a North Little Rock anesthesiologist who treats patients with cannabis and hemp products, said Delta-8 products have medical utility and that it might be better to regulate them than ban them. Nichol said he was not testifying against the bill but wanted to point out the unintended consequences of defining hemp at .1% and of not allowing hemp to be combined with non-hemp products. Nichol said he was concerned about the future of cannabinoids like CBD and CBG. 

Luke Niforatos, the executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, testified in favor of the bill, saying that Delta-8 THC products were new to the market and were dangerous and not well-researched. Niforatos said early research suggests Delta-8 products are associated with psychosis and that many of them include Delta-9 as well. Niforatos said a ban in his home state of Colorado had worked well and had not encountered legal problems. 

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-marijuana outfit active in the campaign to defeat a recreational marijuana amendment last year, has advocated for the Delta-8 ban with full-page ads in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the last two weeks and with a billboard truck that was parked near the state Capitol recently. 

Ronnie Clifton pushed back on Smart Approaches to Marijuana, comparing them to a “modern-day Carrie Nation hacking away at CBD businesses.”

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