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Maryland is preparing to regulate Delta-8 and other hemp-derived products

Bottles of gummies, fortified with Delta-8 THC are sold by Nicholas Patrick, who owns three CBD stores, Thursday., April 21, 2022. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)

The state of Maryland released a report this week that could have a major impact on the cannabis industry and that of its upstart little sibling: Delta-8 THC.

Like many first children, Maryland’s medical cannabis industry has had to follow a lot of rules — rules on growing, processing, testing and selling. It took years to mature into an industry with a half-billion dollars in annual revenue.

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Then came Delta-8 and other hemp-derived cannabinoids. These products are closely related to the cannabis sold in dispensaries and can have psychoactive effects. Regulators have said these products are often mislabeled and in rare instances contain dangerous substances.

Delta-8 THC is one of more than a hundred closely related compounds found in the cannabis plant called cannabinoids. Its chemical structure is nearly identical to Delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis, though it is generally considered less potent. Delta-8 is found in small amounts in hemp. Processors are able to synthesize more Delta-8 through a chemical technique using legally grown hemp. Some processors are now using a similar method to produce Delta-9 THC products from hemp.

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Paralleling many second children, the industry has so far avoided almost any rules. Delta-8 was accidentally legalized when Congress passed rules on hemp in 2018. Gas stations, CBD shops and convenience stores across the nation started selling them. Last year, industry players estimated that Maryland’s market was already topping $50 million in annual revenue.

This rapid growth has at times vexed its older sibling, medical cannabis — its industry leaders supported banning Delta-8 last year.

The Maryland General Assembly has been more focused on setting up the state’s recreational cannabis industry, which voters approved in November’s election, but lawmakers are expected to address Delta-8 this session, too. Rather than ban Delta-8 last year, lawmakers decided to bring stakeholders together and hash out some suggestions. Those ideas were turned into a report by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission that was publicly released this month. It has several recommendations for the legislature, including:

  • Mandatory testing for dangerous substances like heavy metals and pesticides.
  • Packaging requirements that accurately display the contents and any side effects.
  • Licensing requirements for manufacturers and retailers that would include compliance checks.

Nicholas Patrick said he is generally pleased with those recommendations. Patrick owns three stores called Embrace CBD Wellness that sell Delta-8 and other hemp-derived cannabinoids, like CBD. He cofounded the Maryland Healthy Alternatives Association, a Delta-8 and hemp industry group that was consulted by regulators.

“This stuff was just being sold kind of haphazardly through gas stations and convenience stores,” Patrick said, explaining that he wants “common sense” regulation that makes his industry safer for consumers.

Items on display inside Embrace CBD Wellness Center, one of three Baltimore area stores owned by Nicholas Patrick, on Thursday, April 21, 2022. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)

What regulators are recommending would bring other Delta-8 retailers in line with the practices that he and other responsible businesses use, Patrick said. He just wants these regulations implemented in a way that won’t be too onerous, Patrick said, and will allow small and minority-owned businesses to participate.

It can cost millions of dollars to start a medical cannabis business in Maryland, where the number of licenses is limited and the industry is tightly regulated. Large corporations have purchased some licenses, leading to increased consolidation, and the industry has also been criticized for its lack of diversity.

There are no formal studies on the diversity of Maryland’s Delta-8 industry, but Patrick said looking at the business profiles of Maryland CBD stores listed through Google showed about 30% were Black-owned.

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“We had some reservations and we continue to have some reservations about overregulating and what that could do to small and minority owned businesses,” Patrick said. “We don’t want it to look like [the] cannabis [industry] where you need millions of dollars to play the game.”

Hope Wiseman owns Mary & Main, a licensed medical cannabis dispensary in Prince George’s County that also sells some Delta-8 products. Wiseman said she believes there are distinct customer bases for Delta-8 and medical cannabis and that Delta-8 is providing an avenue for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs to participate in the larger cannabis industry.

Wiseman doesn’t want to see the Delta-8 industry stagnate and does not want the state to cap licenses for retailers or manufacturers.

“I feel like there’s enough room for all of us,” Wiseman said. “I can compete in an open market. I think a lot of people in the Maryland [cannabis] industry are banking on that it’s a limited license situation. … Competition breeds excellence.”

Part of what has allowed the Delta-8 industry to flourish in Maryland is that the products can come from growers and processors across the country.

Maryland requires any medical cannabis sold in the state to be grown and processed here, meaning it took years to set up a supply chain. The report from regulators did not make any recommendations on where Delta-8 products can originate, but it did recommend that these products undergo testing for dangerous substances.

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How rigorous those tests are — and which labs handle them — could have a major impact on the industry.

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Levi Sellers of the Maryland Hemp Coalition took part in the study by regulators and said that licensed retailers and manufacturers should be able to use accredited labs to authenticate that their products are safe — regardless of where they’re located.

That’s not how Jake Van Wingerden sees it. He runs SunMed Growers, one of the biggest cannabis cultivators in the state, and chairs the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association.

Van Wingerden said Maryland has an especially safe medical cannabis industry because of its rigorous testing requirements. If hemp-derived products do not pass those tests, they should be pulled off of shelves, he said.

Van Wingerden pointed to data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which found there were nearly 2,400 calls to poison control centers between January 2021 and February 2022 for Delta-8, with 40% of those cases involving children.

Delta-8 is being marketed in the mid-Atlantic area, including at a store on the 400 block of East Baltimore Street, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)

“The hemp products should be held to the exact same standards that the cannabis products are held to,” he said.

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Maryland has four state-approved labs for testing cannabis. Van Wingerden said he knows the Delta-8 industry will resist undergoing the same testing that medical cannabis does, but it’s best for consumers.

“It’s an expensive test. It’s robust,” Van Wingerden said. “And they’ll fail unless they clean up their act, but that’s good.”


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