A derivative of hemp with effects similar to traditional marijuana is picking up popularity and being sold in shops across Indiana.
Despite the state’s long-standing refusal to legalize marijuana, the Delta-8 THC derivative is being sold from store shelves thanks to a legal gray area that many state officials would rather not talk about.
Delta-8, called “weed light” by some users, essentially gives a weaker high than does regular marijuana, and federal health officials are raising concerns about its use.
In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both issued warnings about the drug. The FDA noted that Delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated nor approved by the agency for safe use in any context, citing concerns in the product’s marketing and some processes used to convert it from cannabinoids.
At least 14 states have blocked the sale of Delta-8, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Utah.
Indiana’s policy on the substance remains hazy at best. And longtime marijuana advocates say they hope state officials take no action to curb its use.
State Rep. Jim Lucas, a Seymour Republican who is one of the state’s most vocal supporters of legalized marijuana, said he uses Delta-8 gummies as an alternative to a prescription narcotic to help him sleep at night, “with great success.”
“I hope we leave it the hell alone,” Lucas said.
The legality of Delta-8 THC and other hemp derivatives and cannabis-related compounds is fuzzy mainly because of 3-year-old federal legislation.
The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill legalized hemp, which is defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3% Delta-9 THC or less. What the bill does not address is Delta-8 THC levels, an omission that makes it legal for vendors to sell the compound derived from hemp.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical component of cannabis that gets someone high. When people talk about THC, they’re typically talking about Delta-9 THC.
In Indiana and on a federal level, marijuana remains illegal and is listed as a Schedule I drug, a tier reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medicinal benefit, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Hemp advocates say that, because Indiana code mentions only Delta-9 THC, Delta-8 products derived from hemp or CBD are legal, with no limit on the percentage of THC in those products.
But Indiana law also legally defines tetrahydrocannabinols (both organic and synthetic) as controlled substances.
Indiana State Police Capt. Ron Galaviz said in a statement to Indianapolis Business Journal that law enforcement interprets this to mean Delta-8 THC products are “arguably covered as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, separate from the allowances for hemp-derived products that contain no more than 0.3% Delta 9 THC.”
Galaviz declined an interview with IBJ. He would not comment further on whether there have been any Delta-8-related arrests and how, or if, the state or law enforcement plans to crack down on businesses selling Delta-8 products.
Meanwhile, CBD and hemp dispensaries across the state continue to promote and sell Delta-8 products with no repercussions. The words “Delta-8” are plastered on hemp-shop windows and on websites, with businesses briskly selling the products in the form of vape pens, gummies, candy and wax concentrate.
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