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Lawmakers split over advanced legislation banning delta-8

By Hannah Shields
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — State lawmakers advanced a bill draft on Monday that aims to ban all hemp-products containing any psychoactive properties, including delta-8, without providing a distinction between “synthetic” and “naturally occurring” properties.

Members of the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee were divided in their opinions of the bill. Some members said the draft was a necessary step toward protecting youth, while others hesitated over the bill’s broad language.

Committee co-Chairman Rep. Art Washut, R- Casper, said the bill was “not ready for prime time.”

“I made it a point in the past to support legislation coming out of committee that is ready for primetime,” Washut said. “We need a bill that we’re really comfortable with, and, unfortunately, I don’t think we’re there.”

Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, insisted the proposed ban on delta-8 was a necessary step forward. The committee has worked on the bill since April, she said, hearing endless testimony from the state’s crime lab, law enforcement and representatives from the hemp industry.“In the end, the concept isn’t that difficult,” Oakley said. “This closes a hole that we’re hearing about delta-8 being abused, and, specifically, from younger people.”

State lawmakers have long expressed concern over found traces of delta-8, a psychoactive compound extracted from the Cannabis Sativa plant, in hemp products. As they discovered in their September meeting, however, the biggest challenge is testing the difference between “naturally occurring” traces of delta-8 and “synthetic.”

Officials from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation told lawmakers during their last meeting that traces of delta-8 occur naturally in hemp products, and that there is no way for DCI to test the difference between what is natural and what is synthetic.

Lawmakers narrowly advanced the Hemp-limitations on psychoactive substances bill by a vote of 8 to 6. The bill, as written, would prohibit the addition of synthetic substances, or other additives, to hemp products, as well as the production or sale of hemp with more than 0.3% THC.

The definition of THC was expanded in the bill to include similar psychoactive substances, such as delta-8.

Shane England, with Hemp Industries Association, warned lawmakers against changing the definition of hemp from delta-9, which federally distinguishes it as marijuana, to a total THC ban, “which is a definition that hasn’t stood up in a single court case.”

“When we start prohibiting full spectrum hemp products … it just doesn’t work,” England said. “We need to look at safety, we need to look at compliance.”


What counts as ‘psychoactive’?

Rep. Ken Chestek, D-Laramie, pointed out that psychoactive was not defined in the bill, and wondered whether this created potential issues.

“I’m thinking about somebody who says ‘I use CBD because it helps me relax.’ Is being relaxed psychoactive?” Chestek said.

Brian Fuller, with the Legislative Service Office, said there was no current definition of “psychoactive” in any current hemp statutes and noted it was a worthy question for the committee to consider.

Senior assistant attorney general Kellsie Singleton agreed that a definition of “psychoactive” would help in clarifying which substances are included under the expanded definition of THC.

“We did look at some case law to see if there was something out there. The closest thing we could find was ‘impairing a person’s physical or mental functioning,’” Singleton said. If a person is taking a CBD product and not experiencing an altered mind state, Chestek asked, then what’s the point?

“I’m getting back at the problem of what’s ‘psychoactive’ and what’s ‘not psychoactive,’” Chestek said. “If it’s not psychoactive in some manner, why do people use it?”

The scientific effects of CBD on the human body were not known to Singleton, nor Sarah Barrett, senior forensic analyst for the Wyoming State Crime Laboratory.

“You hear on the news that it has some benefit, and that people are getting relief from it,” Barrett said. “I’m not necessarily in the business of determining what that is. My job is specifically to test and see what kind of substance is in an item.”

The bill was advanced without an added definition of “psychoactive,” which Oakley suggested could be amended further down the line.

Hemp industry urges lawmakers to ‘regulate,’ not ban delta-8

Nearly all who testified during the public comment portion urged lawmakers not to advance the bill, warning it would do more harm than good. 

Paul Yohe, who spoke on behalf of The Green Room in Casper, said the bill was “too broad.” Instead, what lawmakers should focus on is the regulation of THC in products, he said, rather than a full-on THC ban.

“With more regulation comes more accountability.  Then we’ll be able to actually see what people are using in their products,” Yohe said.

Marcus Jones, the operations manager for Plant Hemp Co., said delta-8 in hemp products has helped Wyomingites with issues of anxiety, depression and sleep. 

So the staff knows exactly what’s in it, Plant Hemp Co. requires a certificate of analysis for its consumable hemp products, which is done by a third-party lab.

“We’re going about this all the wrong way,” Jones said. “We should be regulating packages, how much of the psychoactive components can actually be in a product, instead of banning a product completely that has proven now over two years to help quite a few of Wyoming citizens with their ailments.”

There is no current federal regulation that requires COAs on hemp products, Jones said.

“They’re not legally required to tell you how much is in the bottle,” he said, adding that COAs should become a standard for all shops.

Cheyenne resident Max Esdale said he had never consumed a hemp product a day in his life, nor did he intend to. But after seeing the wondrous effects the product had on his father, who battled cancer, Esdale asked lawmakers to reconsider a full ban on delta-8.

“We’ve largely found that the Legislature has been an unreceptive audience to anything but bans,” Esdale said. “As you go forward with this bill, please provide the time and opportunity to present scientific research on the medical value of cannabinoids.”


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