Bickering over how to regulate Delta-8 THC is getting in the way of general cannabis industry reform in Illinois (and that’s not the only state). While the hemp-derived cannabinoid gives access to THC in states where cannabis is illegal, unfortunately, debates over Delta-8 are now making general adult-use legalization more complicated and legislation challenging to pass.
Most recently, in Illinois, a cannabis industry reform bill failed at the May legislative deadline. The pushback is due to stakeholders failing to find common ground during the final days of the spring session. If passed, it would have increased the canopy space for craft growers, allowed dispensaries to operate drive-through windows and offer curbside pickup, and provided social equity retail license holders another year to secure real estate. However, then a proposal to regulate Delta-8 THC was tacked on. Squabbling over whether to ban Delta-8 or regulate it like cannabis halted the other broader reform efforts.
As a result, they pushed back the entire bill until the fall session, Illinois Democratic Rep. LaShawn Ford, the bill’s sponsor, told Capitol News Illinois. Ford is against adding a Delta-8 THC ban in the bill until they receive more insight from state regulators and industry stakeholders. “We need to regulate it, make it safe, make sure that it’s taxed, and treat it just like cannabis,” Ford said.
Delta-8 THC comes from the naturally occurring cannabinoid in hemp. It is psychoactive with effects similar to its more famous cousin, Delta-9. Both are isomers of THC, but one has a double bond on the eighth carbon chain, while the other has the same double bond on the ninth carbon chain, giving the cannabinoids their names, Delta-8 THC and Delta-9 THC. While everyone reacts differently, it’s generally understood that Delta-8 provides a milder, more physical high compared to the cerebral effects of Delta-9, the THC everyone (well, not everyone) knows and loves.
While cannabis is still illegal on a federal level, when the $867 billion Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (better known as the Farm Bill) passed, hemp production is now totally legal nationally. Cultivators are allowed to produce the plant if it contains under .3% of THC in its chemical makeup. Because humans will always find a way to get high, hemp manufacturers began generating and selling psychoactive Delta-8 products. In addition to offering residents of non-legal states something psychoactive, Delta-8 calls the Federal government on its legislation’s absurdity. Regulating and outlawing a plant based on chemical levels is nonsensical and doesn’t work—nature finds a way.
While it’s excellent that Delta-8 gives folks access to some form of psychoactive cannabis, many may want to switch to Delta-9. To start, extracting Delta-8 takes much more effort (and can be worse for the environment) than regular ole’ Delta-9, which is simply more prominent.
Production of Delta-8 is also more expensive, but putting away manufacturing concerns, Delta-9 is just stronger. There are many medical patients and recreational users who simply prefer the more potent and ethereal effects of Delta-9, and it’s a shame that the Farm Bill, filled with hope for the eventual legalization of cannabis, is now getting in the way of adult use and access to Delta-9.
Regulation of Delta-8 across the U.S. varies. At least 14 states have banned Delta-8 THC products altogether, and that number will likely rise over the next year. For instance, Colorado lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation earlier in 2023 to regulate any intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids (aka Delta-8). Conversely, Minnesota, which recently legalized adult-use cannabis, becoming the 23rd state, is offering producers licenses for cannabis and hemp-derived products. In a stoner’s perfect world, one would have affordable, easy, and equitable access to both hemp and cannabis products without fear of the feds. Still, until then, we will continue to report on the unfolding patchwork of cannabis legalization in the U.S.