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Massachusetts Officials Eye Regulation Of THC-Infused Hemp Products Sold In Liquor Stores And Smoke Shops



“The hemp product is so closely related to cannabis that it would probably benefit us and the consumers if we had the Cannabis Control Commission somehow involved.”

By Bhaamati Borkhetaria, CommonWealth Beacon

Beacon Hill is waking up to a regulatory loophole that has allowed hemp drinks and gummies with intoxicating doses of THC—the same high-inducing ingredient found in cannabis—to show up in liquor stores, smoke shops and restaurants across Massachusetts.

At a legislative hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury) asked the commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture Resources what she was doing about the spread of these unregulated products. The commissioner, Ashley Randle, said her agency is aware of the problem and working with the Department of Public Health to put out new guidance next month on how these products should be treated.

That was a big step forward. The products are technically illegal in Massachusetts, but neither the Agricultural Department, which regulates hemp, nor the Department of Public Health, which regulates food products, has stepped up with any enforcement. The agencies have left that job to under-resourced local boards of health which have taken no action.

Moore said the current situation isn’t working. “This is a product that people are going to be consuming. When I say people, this could be adults, it could be minors,” he said. “I think we need to have some review just to determine what’s safe.”

If the two agencies can’t come to agreement on who is taking the lead on the hemp issue, Moore said, the Legislature should step in.

Sen. Joanne Comerford (D) and Rep. Paul Schmid (D)—the Senate vice chair and the House chair of the Legislature’s Agricultural Committee—are moving in that direction. They are scheduling an oversight hearing for June on the hemp products, most of which are coming in from out of state.

“In moments like these, we step back and we say, OK, let’s get the experts in the room and ask hard questions together and really look at a body of evidence to help us understand the best way forward,” said Comerford.

Moore said he thinks it would make sense to remove hemp from the oversight of the Department of Agricultural Resources and give that job to the Cannabis Control Commission, which has oversight over marijuana products containing THC.

“I do think that the hemp product is so closely related to cannabis that it would probably benefit us and the consumers if we had the Cannabis Control Commission somehow involved in the regulation of this,” he said.

Intoxicating hemp products–which contain the same active ingredient that exists in cannabis–are regulated very differently than the marijuana products you find in dispensaries. The situation came about because a federal law passed in 2018 removed the hemp plant from the definition of marijuana, which is considered a controlled substance under federal law. Businesses have found ways of deriving THC from hemp, which has led to an entire industry of inconsistently regulated products being marketed throughout the country.

The proliferation of hemp gummies, seltzers, and even vapes has left states with the responsibility of clarifying whether hemp products containing THC are legal and how they should be regulated.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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CommonWealth Beacon reported on the spread of the products on January 23 and coverage has followed in the Boston Globe and elsewhere. A Globe editorial called for action, saying: “It’s not fair to the state’s tax-paying, rule-following businesses to let this loophole persist. A teenager can’t walk into a store and buy alcohol or marijuana. They shouldn’t be able to buy cannabis-infused seltzer either.”

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

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Photo courtesy of Kimzy Nanney.

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