Across the United States, cannabis laws are being rewritten. Legalization seems to be contagious. In 2021 alone, five states have legalized cannabis, with New York leading the way. A sixth, Louisiana, has decriminalized this year. Here in Florida, however, lawmakers appear not to have caught on to the general mood and are swimming against the popular tide. Cannabis laws are certainly a hot topic of debate, but the legislative reform is set to tighten, not relax, existing controls.
The Delta-8 question
The debate surrounds a cannabinoid called Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). To all intents and purposes, the compound is broadly the same as Delta-9 THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid that is found in popular cannabis products like Northern Lights, a cannabis strain that is used for both recreational and medical purposes – you can read more about it at https://www.cannaconnection.com/strains/northern-lights.
The difference is that Delta-8 is found in commercial hemp products that are not subject to the same restrictions and regulatory checks as those that containing Delta-9. It’s a loophole that Florida cannapreneurs have been quick to exploit, marketing Delta-8 products in the same way as companies have been selling CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabis product lines over the past year or so.
Closing the loophole
The reform bill’s chief sponsor is Rep Andrew Learned (dem), and he describes the bill as “a first step forward after five years of walking backward.” It will require any business selling Delta-8 products to register them with the state and it will prohibit their sale to under-21s. It will also tighten restrictions on advertising marijuana products and introduce a mandatory 6-hour training course. This is something that all medical practitioners will have to complete before they can recommend cannabis products to patients.
The move has been met with lukewarm diplomacy by Nikki Fried, the Agricultural Commissioner, and an outspoken advocate for expansion of cannabis in Florida. She said that such expansion must be “done right” and acknowledged that consumer protection should be the top priority.
Concerns among medical cannabis users
The customers visiting Florida’s independent health stores are less convinced, however. Products containing Delta-8, which are mostly in the form of vape pens, are already starting to disappear from the shelves. The vast majority of customers are not looking for a cheap high on a Saturday night, but are managing medical conditions that vary from anxiety to fibromyalgia to dementia.
Of course, there is little or no clinical evidence of the efficacy of these natural remedies. The concern is that thousands could find themselves unable to obtain a remedy they have found to work. At the same time, the tighter controls on prescribed medical cannabis could mean there is no easy and legal way to find an alternative, and some might turn to more desperate solutions.
Bill HB 679 is expected to hit the Florida legislature before Christmas, so either way, we will not have long to wait to find out whether Delta-8 products really are a thing of the past.