The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing new rules that could potentially halt the production of many hemp-derived THC products that use chemical processes. This proposed rule suggests that synthetically made cannabinoids, like delta-8, would be added to the federal listed controlled substances. It has been noted that the rise of these products in recent years is the primary reason behind the proposed rules. The DEA has cited multiple petitions and recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for this change in regulations regarding hemp-derived THCs.
In 2018, the United States legalized hemp followed by Texas the following year. Under federal and state laws, cannabis containing 0.3% delta-9 THC or less is deemed legal hemp. Cannabis containing more than 0.3% delta-9 THC is illegal marijuana. As long as the legal amount of delta-9 is not exceeded, manufacturers argued that they should be allowed to produce products with other forms of THC in them, such as delta-8. However, regulators do not agree with this stance.
Delta-8 naturally occurs in the hemp plant but in small quantities. Consequently, manufacturers turned to extract CBD from hemp and convert it chemically into delta-8 or delta-9 or delta-10. DEA’s Terrance Boos, chief of the Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section, noted that it’s not allowed. Boos indicated during the 2023 Supply Chain Conference, that synthetic THCs are not exempted from the federal controlled substances list. He further added that if a synthetic step is taken to produce this substance, it would bring it under the Controlled Substances Act.
Zachary Maxwell, president of Texas Hemp Growers, stated that he anticipated such an outcome. He opined that the synthetic cannabinoid market is “legally dubious and extremely volatile,” most notably delta-8, THCo, HHC, and other synthetic THCs. They depend on the grace of an injunction that could be overturned by a county judge at any moment. Regulators at both the state and federal level are champing at the bit to pass laws to ban these products. Most people have acknowledged this in their long-range planning and have already divested from synthetics.
The DEA recently issued guidance on another popular hemp-derived cannabinoid called THCO, stating that it too is a controlled substance since it doesn’t occur naturally and is created synthetically. This led to the removal of THCO-containing products from many stores. Bill SB264, which proposes a total THC cap for hemp and the banning of products containing synthetic THCs, was also filed. However, both the Senate and House bills are considered dead, with only two weeks left in the legislative session. Nevertheless, concerns remain that a ban on hemp-derived THCs could be tacked onto other bills before the legislative session is over.
Manufacturers who do not produce synthetic cannabinoids, such as Wyatt Larew, co-founder of a local hemp company called Wyatt Purp, sell delta-9 gummies that are completely natural, with no synthesis required. He also sells products with THCa, a precursor to delta-9. Larew believes that if the DEA’s new rules include a total THC cap, he won’t be able to sell his THCa anymore, but his delta-9 products will still comply since they are not manufactured synthetically. The proposed new rules, if implemented, will clarify the legal status of synthetically created cannabinoids like delta-8.
In conclusion, the DEA is proposing new rules that could halt the production of many hemp-derived THC products that utilize chemical processes. The proposed rule suggests that synthetically made cannabinoids, such as delta-8, will be added to the federal listed controlled substances. While manufacturers have argued that they should be allowed to produce products with other forms of THC, regulators disagree. Consequently, manufacturers are nervous about the potential ban of these products and have already divested from synthetics in their long-range planning. They anticipate amendments to bills that could ban synthetic THCs before the legislative session ends.