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Adding CBD Or THC To Food Or Drinks Is Illegal, Massachusetts Officials Say In New Memo



“This is a step in the right direction for us to be able to now enforce what was already on the books so there’s no kind of gray area.”

By Bhaamati Borkhetaria, CommonWealth Beacon

Massachusetts agencies have declared that intoxicating hemp-based products can not be sold outside of licensed dispensaries and have tasked local boards of health to enforce what they say is federal law.

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Department of Agricultural Resources released a joint notice in order to address the recent influx of hemp-based products like gummies and drinks that contain the same active ingredient as cannabis products. The notice made explicit that the “addition of CBD and/or THC to food manufactured or sold in Massachusetts is illegal.”

This action by the two state agencies reflects what they have been saying about the legality of these products. Now, with the advisory, they have made the guidance explicit and have charged local boards of health to enforce it.

Following the notice, the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission warned its licensees that their licenses could be suspended or revoked if they are caught selling hemp-derived products.

“This is a big win for both the cannabis and the hemp industry, specifically those who are licensed by the CCC and MDAR,” said Ryan Dominguez, the head of the Massachusetts Cannabis Coalition. “This is a step in the right direction for us to be able to now enforce what was already on the books so there’s no kind of gray area.”

Intoxicating hemp products have been showing up in liquor stores, gas stations and smoke shops across the state because of a 2018 federal law that removed hemp from the definition of marijuana. There are many companies that have popped up to sell hemp products.

The hemp products, which are often marketed very similarly to cannabis products, are not regulated in the same way. Whereas cannabis products face strict regulations around testing, packaging, labeling, taxation and age restrictions, the hemp products have none of these requirements in Massachusetts.

Last month, a commissioner at the Cannabis Control Commission called these products a “public menace.” The CCC does regulate all hemp products that are sold in their licensed dispensaries but does not regulate the intoxicating hemp products in question.

Adam Terry, the CEO of Cantrip, a Boston beverage maker, says many of the hemp-based products are manufactured in Minnesota, which regulates them just as rigorously as marijuana products. He said that this move by the state agencies would only serve to limit the choices that consumers have access to.

“Dispensaries don’t really know how to produce these products correctly or in a cost-effective way and so consumers end up suffering,” said Terry. “I think it’s a shame that all of that demand that exists for these beverages is just not gonna be met and consumers are going to ultimately end up paying the price for it.”

Terry said that it would be much more effective if there were legislation to explicitly regulate and tax hemp-based products rather than just banning it outright in the state. He cited concerns that this advisory would force those with liquor licenses to stop selling beverages like the ones his company makes which, according to him, are stringently tested. However, it would still leave the enforcement on hemp products in gas stations and bodegas in the hands of local boards of health.

Local boards of health have been trying to crack down on hemp products. In Needham, the public health division sent out an email to everyone with a liquor license alerting them that hemp-based intoxicating products are illegal. Worcester’s Board of Health suspended a license to sell tobacco after finding intoxicating hemp at a smoke shop. However, many local boards of health are under-resourced and Dominguez said that additional steps will need to be taken for the advisory to be enforced.

Cannabis operators, who are already struggling in an industry with falling cannabis prices, have been pushing for state agencies and the Legislature to address hemp-based intoxicating products which they say are in direct competition with products they sell.

“It’s challenging every day in the cannabis industry with all of the regulations and taxes and everything that we pay,” said Jeff Herold, CEO of Garden Remedies. “Having competitors that don’t have the same rules or regulations makes it a struggle.”

Dominguez noted that initially none of the state agencies that operators reached out to were willing to take responsibility for the hemp-based products and so he was especially happy that these state agencies had finally weighed in on the issue. Herold echoed that sentiment.

“We kind of got into a position where every state agency was like saying, ‘yes, you’re right, these products are illegal’ but we don’t have the authority to enforce the rules,” said Herold. “That is until today when a letter clearly came out that pointed in the direction of how to implement the correct law.”

This article first appeared on CommonWealth Beacon and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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