Intoxicating hemp edibles found in Anchorage stores

‘I have a problem when kids get hurt and our legal industry gets hurt’
Intoxicating hemp edibles found in Anchorage stores
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 2:56 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Some hemp products being sold at stores in Anchorage are most likely illegal and, if eaten, are intoxicating.

“First let me state there’s a question about whether they can legally sell these products. And one thing that we are exploring with the Department of Law is whether, at this moment, my office has authority to issue cease and desist orders to end those sales,” said Joan Wilson, the executive director of the Alaska Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office (AMCO).

It’s a gray area of the law that goes back to 2018 when the Farm Bill was passed.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had been an advocate for legalizing hemp so it could be a bigger agricultural product in the U.S., especially in his home state of Kentucky, tweeting about the Farm Bill multiple times.

Industrial hemp is a different variety of the same plant that produces marijuana, which had made it illegal under federal law except for some commercial uses. But, the Hemp Farming Act, which is part of the Farm Bill, removed hemp from its status as a schedule I drug.

“The Farm Bill removed industrial hemp from being treated as a schedule 1 drug so it can now be sold commercially and shipped between states. Although currently being evaluated for descheduling, marijuana remains a schedule 1 drug. It can only be sold in Alaska through licensed retail stores and cannot be shipped out of state,” Wilson wrote in an email.

That provision has led to intoxicating hemp being sold throughout the country — with no age restrictions, in larger quantities and possibly with a more intense high than legal edibles.

“Some very savvy entrepreneurs figured out they could take advantage of the technical definition of industrial hemp, extract it to such an extence that it becomes intoxicating, even more intoxicating than licensed marijuana products here in Alaska, put it in an edible, call it hemp and ship it around the country,” Wilson said.

Alaska’s News Source was able to find the hemp gummies with delta-9 and THC in at least two stores in Anchorage — none of the stores were cannabis retail shops.

One shop required that buyers be at least 21 to purchase the intoxicating hemp gummies.

“I’ve been in this business of representing marijuana companies since 2013, I didn’t see this coming,” said Jana Weltzin, an attorney who is also on the state’s marijuana task force.

If the packaging has the word “delta,” such as “delta-9″ or “THC” in the list of ingredients it will create an intoxicating effect.

“This product I bought from a local retailer here, that’s not a marijuana establishment,” Weltzin said, holding a black jar packed with 30 pink, square gummies. The flavor was described as “dragonberry.”

“It has, in this container, 300 milligrams of THC, delta-9, which is again, same delta-9 for marijuana from hemp. And now that’s (3) times the legal limit that you can buy in a licensed, regulated, marijuana shop,” Weltzin said.

Weltzin said the jar of gummies cost about $50.

Recently AMCO and the State Hemp Plan manager sent a letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy outlining the problem.

“The State Hemp Plan has approved 1,850 hemp products for sale in the State of Alaska. Upon additional review for purposes of this analysis, the State Hemp Plan rescinded its prior approval of 6 products that exceed the regulatory limitation of not more than 50 milligrams of delta-9 THC per package,” the letter says. “Of the remaining 1,844 products, 700 products were full-spectrum hemp oils or extracts that contain higher levels of delta-9 THC.”

It goes on to say that “recent buys show that some retailers registered under the State Hemp Plan are unlawfully selling unendorsed and impairing products.”

The State Hemp Plan falls under the Department of Natural Resources.

“DNR does not have a enforcement unit for the hemp program. Employees that operate the hemp program in are primarily responsible for issues related to regulatory compliance. People or businesses that are illegally selling intoxicating hemp products may be investigated by DNR, AMCO, or State law enforcement officers,” DNR Director of Communications Lorraine Henry wrote in an email.

To fix the issue Wilson says the federal government would need to change the definition of “industrial hemp” in the Farm Act.

Wilson says there are also fixes the state could make.

“We can change state law to move these products under AMCO’s jurisdiction and be regulated, and in the short term (1) AMCO with marijuana control board and department of law approval can issue cease and desist letters to shops selling this type of product or (2) the division of agriculture could issue regulations to limit THC in a hemp edible to not be intoxicating,” Wilson wrote in an email.

Dunleavy’s spokesperson, Jeff Turner, wrote in an email: “The governor’s office is considering legislation on hemp products containing intoxicating levels of THC. The administration’s legislative package will be released on January 17, the first day of the legislative session.”

Wilson says her biggest concern is that people under 21 years old could ingest the intoxicating gummies and the financial impacts on the state because the marijuana tax isn’t applicable to these products.

The state typically collects about $1.8 million a month on cannabis taxes.

“I have a problem when kids get hurt and our legal industry gets hurt,” Wilson said.