Hemp producers say lawmakers’ efforts to close a loophole that lets unlicensed stores sell high-THC products – the key compound that causes a high from marijuana – will also keep them from selling many of their products they say aren’t intoxicating.
Becky Goetsch, owner of Running Brook Farms in Killingworth, recently told CT Examiner that Connecticut hemp farmers “fully support” the intent of lawmakers who say a loophole in federal law allows stores other than licensed marijuana retailers to sell gummies and other products with high levels of THC, without oversight and age restrictions.
The bill would also ban synthetic, intoxicating compounds derived from hemp plants, including Delta 8 products sometimes found in convenience stores, which Goetsch said she also supports getting rid of.
But she argued the way the bill is written would ban not only unlicensed, high-THC products, but also legal CBD products that don’t have intoxicating levels of THC. She said it would require about 80 percent of her products, including tinctures and herbal teas, to be repackaged or reformulated, which could make some of them ineffective as CBD treatments.
“That whole class of products, ban them. As far as we’re concerned, that’s fine,” Goetsch said. “But this language singling out high-THC hemp products as just a blanket term, that covers the products that we make that are just genuine wellness, CBD products.”
Other hemp producers contacted by CT Examiner declined to comment, and said Goetsch spoke for them.
Goetsch said her business is a four-season garden center that includes hemp in its crop rotation and makes CBD wellness products. Though she has other income streams to fall back on, Goetsch expressed concern for the industry and people who primarily farm hemp, or who run a CBD store that stocked products that would become illegal to sell.
“There’s very few in the hemp industry who would be able to survive without selling those products,” she said.
She’s also concerned about her customers not being able to buy the products they say help them.
“I take great pride and joy in bringing a craft product to my community that’s trustworthy, with somebody right here on the farm to be able to talk to them about how I make it and how they can use it in their wellness needs,” Goetsch said. “We’ve spent all this time really honing our craft, and it’s just really heartbreaking to see what feels like us being under attack.”
In 2019, the first year hemp was legal to produce in Connecticut, 109 licensed producers harvested 120 acres of the plant. Production peaked in 2020 when 140 producers harvested 134 acres of hemp.
But Goetsch said the market for the plant collapsed once other states started getting on board with hemp, which was legalized federally in 2018.
Last year, there were 78 producers who harvested just 12.65 acres of hemp, according to data from the state Department of Agriculture.
“The people who have survived the glut of oversupply, we’ve done so by having value-added products that we make out of them,” Goetsch said.
While CBD has been a huge part of the surviving hemp industry in Connecticut, Geoff Whaling, chair of the National Hemp Association, said it’s a small part of the potential of industrial hemp overall.
“There was a mad dash of investment in CBD grows across the country, and it resulted in this overplanting, and a lot of companies and particularly farmers ended up on the losing side. They couldn’t get paid,” Whaling told CT Examiner on Tuesday. “The playing field is being leveled a little bit more, but there are what I continue to say are bad actors who are trying to push the limits of their own interpretation of federal law.”
Whaling said the intent of federal hemp legalization wasn’t to create a back door for creating intoxicating, high-THC products. But some producers have taken liberties with federal rules that say hemp can only have up to 0.3 percent THC on a “dry weight basis.” Concentrated THC in legal hemp or synthesized compounds like Delta 8 to do just that, he said.
Whaling contends those products are already federally illegal, but a lack of clarity from the Food and Drug Administration has led to confusion and a patchwork of fixes by the states, including the one proposed in Connecticut.
In California, he said CBD is still considered illegal because the state’s Department of Health is waiting for FDA guidance. New York has banned Delta 8, while Florida has allowed it, he said. Colorado recently approved restrictions on THC in hemp products, similar but less restrictive than the Connecticut bill.
The federal farm bill being worked on this year could include a directive for the FDA to provide clear guidance to states that would clear up the “hodge podge” of state regulations, he said. It also could raise the limit on THC in hemp from the “arbitrary” 0.3 percent standard to 1 percent.
“I think it’s certainly within the purview of the state legislature to listen to their constituents and respond accordingly,” Whaling said. “It certainly sounds like there are some who are concerned about the safety of children. It would be far more beneficial for the industry if the federal agency that has responsibility and oversight – the FDA – regulated.”
Goetsch and Whaling both said they understood the desire to protect children from unrestricted high-THC products that drove the state House to vote 148-1 in favor of the new restrictions earlier this month.
But as the bill awaits its time in the Senate, Goetsch said lawmakers writing it without input from the hemp industry is going to damage their businesses. A proponent of the bill, state Rep. Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden, acknowledged it would hurt businesses before it was taken up in the House.
Goetsch said a bottle of CBD oil with 30 servings could have 2,000 milligrams of CBD and about 10 milligrams of THC. Marijuana gummies sold in licensed stores have 5 milligrams of THC in each piece, so one serving of the CBD oil would have a negligible amount, she explained.
“Completely non-intoxicating, but the customer wants to buy it in a format so they can take one dropper a day and have a bottle that’s going to last them a month,” Goetsch said.
The bill would limit hemp products to 1 milligram of THC per serving, and 5 milligrams per package. D’Agostino said one concern was high-THC gummies being sold in jars instead of being individually packaged, so someone could ingest the whole bottle at once.
But Goetsch argued the proposed rules would require her to reformulate her herbal teas and change her packaging so it doesn’t have more than five servings per package. The revenue from the product likely isn’t worth the time and expense, she said.
“I’ve fallen in love with the concept of herbal teas, and now I grow all these other herbs and have built all these relationships with my community members [who use the teas],” she said. “I’m sure that, because we have a lot of integrity and are trusted, that they would go through some growing pains with me and I’d still have a lot of support – but my products won’t perform as well as they used to. … If the product doesn’t work anymore, it’s not worth buying.”
She instead suggested limiting THC in hemp products by setting a ratio of how much THC is allowed compared to the amount of CBD. In written comments to the General Law Committee that reviewed the bill, others suggested requiring childproof packaging for hemp products that contain THC.
At the very least, Goetsch said she hopes the bill is changed so that it does not take effect July 1, just a few weeks after the end of the legislative session. This would put farmers and stores in the position of potentially being liable for having products that were made legally, she said.
“I’m aware that it’s going to be difficult [to get any changes] because of the tremendous support for this bill from a child safety point of view,” she said. “But minimally, what the state needs to do is give our industry a window to adapt.”