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Florida lawmakers hear alarming tales regarding hemp-derived THC products


Florida lawmakers hear alarming tales regarding hemp-derived THC products

Nov 14, 2023 | 6:12 pm ET
By Mitch Perry
Florida lawmakers hear alarming tales regarding hemp-derived THC products
Dr. Alexandra Fund with the Florida Poison Information Center addressed lawmakers by showing a hemp product that looks like candy at the Florida Senate Agriculture Committee meeting on Nov. 14, 2023 (photo credit: Screenshot from the Florida Channel)

Florida lawmakers earlier this year seriously debated limiting the amount of THC in hemp-derived products but, due in part to some resistance from the hemp industry, ultimately passed less restrictive legislation that simply bars the sale of such products to individuals under the age of 21.

But the idea that there is a problem with products such as Delta-8 — that has psychoactive and intoxicating effects, according to the FDA — was the subject of a nearly 90-minute panel discussion before the Florida Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday in Tallahassee, with lawmakers hearing alarming information, in particular about how children have ingested such products, despite the new law.

Dr. Alexandra Funk is managing director at the Florida Poison Information Center at Tampa General Hospital, one of three such centers in the state (the others are in Jacksonville and Miami). She said that, so far, her facility has seen 937 cases of children up to the age of 19 exposed to high potency THC products this year — with almost half of those less than 5 years old, with many finding it in their home and using their parents’ products.

“A lot of the products that we’re seeing can look like candy,” she said. “[They] can look like cookies, brownies, etc., that children don’t know the difference.”

The 2023 hemp law prohibits marketing that targets children and the packaging of such products that resemble candy that could be attractive to kids.

“I believe if all of the producers in Florida and elsewhere were following a few safety rules on the books, we’d be in a much better position to protect from these types of incidents,” said Jammie Treadwell, a hemp farmer. “The problem is everybody is not following the rules consistently, and especially products from out of state do not have the same rules that Florida has.”

And Treadwell cautioned lawmakers as they contemplate legislation in the new year.

“There are farmers at the back end of this who are growing products who are following the Florida state statutes, which in my opinion were well drafted and feature a lot of consumer safety protections that don’t exist in other states. So please, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” she said. “There are a lot of great things that are happening with the hemp industry and safe products that are being made by Florida farmers.”

‘Right direction’

Ellen Snelling is with the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance. She said that state lawmakers should have outright banned the sale of Delta-8 as part of the hemp bill passed earlier this year.

“This law is a great step in the right direction but, in my opinion, not nearly enough,” Snelling told the committee. “I supported the original bill that did set limits and caps on THC content. THC limits are needed — and even better, in my opinion, to have a complete ban on these hemp-synthesized intoxicants to protect public health and safety.”

Delta-8 THC is banned in 17 states, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association.

Snelling showed a package of gummies to the committee that she said contained 7,000 milligrams in one package.

Nick Tiscione, manager of the toxicology unit with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, told lawmakers that the cannabis plant itself has a fair amount of CBD in it, which is considered to be “protective” from potential psychotic side effects that can occur.

“So, what these [hemp] products also don’t have is they’re very highly concentrated in the Delta-8 THC but … they’re quite pure,” he said. “They don’t have the CBD present, as well, which is why you tend to see that these high-concentrated products [have] more of these psychotic effects — at least that’s one of the [reasons] for why this is happening more with these products.”

Ocala GOP state Sen. Dennis Baxley said he didn’t believe smoke/hemp shops should sell products that come from overseas when store owners aren’t even certain of the contents, and contemplated what type of action lawmakers should do.

“I’m not trying to make it tougher for the producer but, at the same time, they do count on us to regulate access to things that are harmful to you,” he said. “Approved or not approved by the Department of Health would be very informative to me.”

Treadwell, the only member of the hemp industry on the panel, reiterated that many of the concerns expressed were part of the law passed earlier this year.

“All of that information that you’re requesting, I’m pretty sure … is part of the label instructions that were given whenever we are identified as manufacturers,” she said. “So, if those were consistently implemented, not just by products made in Florida but products that were coming from out of state, again, I think that would be a big step forward towards consumer confidence and holding people accountable to all follow the same rules.”

The 2023 hemp bill was sponsored by Manatee County Republican Will Robinson in the House and Polk County Republican Colleen Burton in the Senate. In August, Robinson told the Phoenix that in reference to going back to placing THC limits on hemp products “we may revisit that piece of legislation later.”

Neither he nor Sen. Burton have filed such legislation, but there are still nearly two months before the 2024 legislative session commences.