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Commentary: Is Full Spectrum Hemp a Thing of the Past in Colorado?

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Commentary: Is Full Spectrum Hemp a Thing of the Past in Colorado?

Intoxicating synthesized D8 and D10 are now legal in Colorado. Your full spectrum hemp extract is not.

By Alan Lewis

Intoxicating synthesized D8 and D10 are now legal in Colorado. Your full spectrum hemp extract is not. 

Read that opener again. It is, in fact, correct. 

How did this happen? Lawmakers were told that marijuana street drugs are dangerous — so they must legalize their sale to take them off the market. They were told full spectrum extracts may contain dangerous THC, so they have to make them illegal

These upside-down statements highlight the broken logic that resulted in passage of SB23-271.

These fractured changes are the result of a back-room collaboration between the governor’s marijuana czar, national marijuana lobbyists, and a Boulder County legislator with an axe to grind. Yes, there was a months long public stakeholder process during 2022, but it proved to be more like political theater as its recommendations were abandoned as soon as the legislature sequestered itself into back-room negotiations. 

As a longtime stakeholder in industrial hemp regulation, expert in federal food and dietary supplement regulation, and an active member of the infamous CHAMP and Intoxicating Hemp Task Force, you might think a citizen like me would be invited to those talks. Honestly, I could not even find out where the talks were taking place. Dozens of emails and calls to legislators went unanswered, because I questioned the process and the confused logic. The only communication I received from the legislature was from one representative from Lakewood, Chris Kennedy, who made the claim above, “We have to take them off the market.”  When challenged on his thinking, he went silent again. 

The official first version of the anti-hemp bill, SB271, was not released until the last three weeks of the 2023 legislative session which just ended. Immediately after introduction, nine surprise amendments were read and voted on. Several of these amendments made little sense and were later rescinded. Someone was drafting changes to the bill who clearly had no understanding of hemp, good manufacturing practices, federal regulation and enforcement, or the safety record of USDA compliant hemp products. They seemed to be just making stuff up. Yet, every change helped benefit the dispensaries, while chipping away at legitimate full spectrum dietary supplement products. 

Saying her son was poisoned by THC, Representative Judith Amabile of Boulder came to the forefront to implicate hemp in public health problems. On the House floor, she stated that all THC was bad and should not be available to anyone – especially not children. No matter how many times federal safety data was presented to her, she maintained her stance. No matter how many times we differentiated synthetic THC street drugs from full spectrum hemp extracts, she maintained her resolve. Representative Amabile stated in public testimony she believes her son was poisoned by excessive pot consumption and is thus permanently impaired. She said it is her mission to not let this happen again. Clearly upholding the marijuana lobby’s agenda, her passion would result in a new marijuana gold rush.

The special needs community also beseeched Representative Amabile to protect their access to full spectrum hemp, specifically because it is not intoxicating, and the residual 0.3% THC bolsters the entourage effect of the extracts. No dice. Amabile was determined to protect these families from THC, for their own good, despite their intense vocal protests. 

The ironic aspect of the bill as it was passed is that legislators were supporting the legalization and commercialization of multiple marijuana street drugs. Their only demand was that the drugs be chemically synthesized from cannabis plant extracts. Hemp advocates never heard from legislators or the governor’s office to explain this contradiction between stated principles and actions taken. They continued to draft and release new surprise amendments in committee hearings and on the House floor, attempting to further restrict access to full spectrum hemp while promoting D8, D10 and other exotic intoxicating cannabis molecules.

Another special interest group also helped confuse legislators by pointing to an uptick in poison control reports associated with Delta 8 THC. Their dogmatic position was that harm from dirty synthetic D8 proves that all THC in any form from any source is bad and should be removed from the market entirely. Confronted with the strong safety record of full spectrum hemp products based on official data drawn from mandatory federal adverse event reporting, they scoffed. “THC is bad.” 

This anti-THC lobby set the stage for Amabile’s untenable fringe position to become a centrist compromise. The marijuana lobby pivoted by claiming “we can sell THC safely in our dispensaries.” Hook, line, and sinker the legislature took the bait. We will legalize these drugs, but age-restrict them.

This anti-hemp “compromise” was negotiated by the bill sponsors, with the guidance and direction of the Marijuana Industry Group, the Governor’s Pot Czar, and a single full-spectrum hemp tincture company. In the end, the Amabile amendments resulted in any product containing THC in excess of 1.25 milligrams per serving, or with a ratio of CBD to THC under 20:1 being only available to the dispensaries “to protect our children,” while longstanding retailers of safe full spectrum hemp products were left out.

For quick comparison, under federal law a full spectrum gummy weighing 5 grams could legally contain 15 milligrams of THC. There were scofflaws creating much larger “serving sizes” to supposedly sell higher-THC products “legally”, but it was the synthesized D8 and D10 that triggered safety warnings from the FDA and DEA. Those 15 milligrams of THC in a full spectrum gummy or softgel didn’t get anyone high, either, since they arrived with over 400 milligrams of CBD.

As a practical matter, responsible retailers must now notify their supply chain of the new labeling, ratio and THC restrictions to be put in place in Colorado. Full Spectrum hemp may be history in Colorado. Broad spectrum hemp will have to be further processed to remove THC to an amount 15 times lower than the 2018 Farm Bill allows. Random CBD isolate will be used to dilute products to reach the 20:1 ratio. Genetics may or may not catch up. Most producers state that 0.3% THC was hard enough to reach. Getting to 20:1 CBD ratio may not be worth it for producers. 

Confused? Remember this: a 20:1 ratio with only 1.5 milligrams of THC requires at least 25 milligrams of CBD per serving. Grab the nearest hemp product to see just how bad this restriction is for the hemp industry.

In the end, families will likely switch back to online and out-of-state sources for full-spectrum hemp. And kids under 21 will likely return to back alleys and rich friends to score their high. At least they can tell their parents that, “D8 and D10 are now legal, so, Mom and Dad, no consequences for me.”

Lastly, it’s important to point out that the desire to protect our children from dangerous hemp extracts apparently does not extend to children in other states. The bill authorizes production and export of a large range of synthesized intoxicating cannabinoids. Hard to hold those two thoughts at once.

Hemp illegal. Street drugs in dispensaries. A free pass to export to other states. The governor’s Pot Czar got his trifecta. Colorado families? Not so much.

What to do now? There will be a public rulemaking process during which things can get a lot worse, or a little better. Show up and speak up. Since your voice was excluded in the lawmaking process, make it heard now.  To help understand the inconsistencies in her policies, I would suggest contacting Representative Amabile for an explanation and to let her know her beliefs have affected your family. Finally, call your Colorado Pot Czar, Mr. Ean Seeb. He works for you, you pay him, and has a lot to answer for. As for the Governor, this appears to be the outcome he wanted, since his people made it happen. 

Alan Lewis is a natural products industry veteran and expert on state and federal hemp regulation. Opinions stated in this article do not necessarily reflect those of his employer, Natural Grocers, or that of Let’s Talk Hemp or WAFBA LLC.

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