The Kentucky House of Representatives voted on Thursday to approve a bill to regulate the production and sale of the hemp-derived cannabinoid delta-8 THC in the state. The measure, House Bill 544, was approved unanimously by a vote of 97-0 and now heads to the state Senate for consideration.
While discussing the legislation on the House floor on Thursday, lawmakers said that they have heard appeals from school and law enforcement officials to restrict sales of delta-8 THC, a psychoactive compound that can be synthesized from legal hemp CBD. Republican House Speaker Pro Tempore David Mead told his colleagues that products containing delta-8 THC pose a safety risk to young people.
“We have this product getting into the hands of children,” Meade said during Thursday’s debate on the legislation. “We have some that have overdosed on this product.”
If passed by the state Senate and signed into law, House Bill 544 would task the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services with drafting administrative regulations for the production and sale of delta-8 products in the state. Regulatory guidelines included in the legislation mandate that the regulations ban the sale of delta-8 to anyone younger than 21 years old. The guidelines also called for delta-8 products to be kept behind retail sales counters and for packaging to clearly state the ingredients contained in the products.
Republican Representative Rebecca Raymer, the lead sponsor of House Bill 544, said that the proliferation of unregulated delta-8 THC threatens farmers and business owners in Kentucky’s growing hemp industry.
“The Kentucky hemp program is a staple for our agricultural community, but the selling and usage of unregulated THC is a danger to every Kentuckian who may use it,” Raymer said in a statement. “These products have no standards for production. If someone were to purchase Delta-8, they have no way of determining if it is safe. This measure will both protect our consumers and enhance the industry.”
Kentucky Bill Supported By Hemp Business Owners
House Bill 544 has the support of many business owners and hemp industry representatives, both in Kentucky and nationwide. Jonathan Miller, general counsel to the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, called the bill “strong legislation” to regulate delta-8 THC and to keep the cannabinoid away from young people.
“Unregulated intoxicating products pose a health crisis for Kentucky and the nation, but measures to criminalize these products are not prudent,” Miller said in a statement from the hemp industry trade group. “HB 544 cuts the perfect balance by ensuring strict regulations that will keep children from accessing these adult products.”
John Taylor, founder and chief executive officer of hemp processor Commonwealth Extracts in Louisville, told lawmakers in the House that Kentucky’s legitimate hemp operators back the legislation.
“We are all in support of regulations. It gets rid of the bad actors who make it hard to compete,” Taylor said. “It costs a lot of money to do the right thing, and when we have people making things in the bathrooms and basements and barns, it really makes it hard for us to compete on a legitimate level.”
Katie Moyer, board president of the Kentucky Hemp Association, said that Kentucky delta-8 consumers face a “Wild West situation” in the state, with products sold at gas stations, health food stores, and other retail outlets containing ingredients “coming from who knows where.”
In May 2023, a federal appeals court ruled that delta-8 THC is legal under federal law, prompting many states to propose legislation to regulate the cannabinoid that is commonly available at convenience stores, smoke shops, and gas stations, particularly in states that have not legalized marijuana. Last year, the Kentucky state Senate passed a bill banning the production of intoxicating hemp-derived products including delta-8 THC by a vote of 23-13, but the House of Representatives declined to approve the measure.
As the debate over delta-8 THC ramped up early last year, the U.S. Hemp Roundtable said in a statement that the marketing of intoxicating hemp products threatens the development of a robust hemp industry.
“These marketing campaigns undermine our advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill to secure important industry objectives such as regulating CBD and increasing THC levels in the field to provide flexibility to farmers,” Miller said in February. “But further, they have also spurred a number of state legislative and regulatory actions that while well intended, have been drafted so broadly as to threaten the provision of safe and healthy nonintoxicating products, like hemp-derived CBD. We call on FDA and state regulators to enforce existing laws to target their efforts on cracking down on intoxicating products marketed as hemp that threaten public health and safety.”