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Delta-8 ban advances in Arkansas Legislature

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Arkansas Legislature
Amy Martin, an attorney and medical marijuana dispensary owner, displays a container of cannabis edibles alongside Sen. Tyler Dees, R-Siloam Springs, in a meeting of the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committee on Tuesday.

Synthetic marijuana is the latest topic to face lively debate at the Arkansas State Capitol.

Lawmakers on the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committee on Tuesday voted to advance Senate Bill 358, which would ban certain products derived from hemp that mirror the effects of THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis.

Other chemicals branded as “synthetic marijuana” are currently banned in Arkansas; however, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized production and sales of hemp nationwide. Products that SB358 seeks to ban are currently legal as a result, and available for purchase in stores across the state.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tyler Dees, R-Siloam Springs, says it would only seek to ban those specific, poorly-regulated products, the most prevalent of which is delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol or Delta-8.

“It only exempts the things that exceed the levels that’s outlined here, the 0.3% of THC. So any other products that are CBD related, that’s not in the scope of this bill. And medical marijuana, that is separately regulated, separately contained, and we have procedures in place there,” Dees said.

Dees and others said products containing Delta-8 are available for purchase in stores by anyone, regardless of age, resulting in numerous overdose complaints to poison control centers. So far, 14 states have banned Delta-8 and similar products.

Dawn Harpell, who owns a CBD store in Northwest Arkansas, says the legislation would put her out of business. She said the state should seek to regulate synthetic marijuana products like Delta-8 before banning them completely.

“These people, if you take this away, are not going to go to the medical program. They’re concerned about losing their gun rights, they’re concerned about the strength of cannabis, and the fact that they like to go to CBD stores because we actually educate them on how to take it,” Harpell said.

Others who spoke against the bill said many Arkansans use Delta-8 and similar products as an alternative to medical marijuana, in effect saving them money and allowing them to retain their right to own firearms. Jeremy Dennis, a CBD store owner from Lonoke County, accused those in the state’s legalized cannabis industry of seeking to stifle competition.

"The monopoly in the medical marijuana system is getting really bad right now, and I think they’re really scared that a lot of people are going to Missouri, they’re losing tax dollars,” Dennis said. “They see a product like Delta-8, and that’s another way that they’re going to get hit. And so by banning it completely instead of legislating it, in turn they get their power back.”

Attorney Abtin Mehdizadegan said he agrees the products should be regulated. But, he said federal law would make it difficult for states like Arkansas to enact an outright ban on Delta-8.

“I fully support the idea of regulation… but it’s going to happen one way or the other. The only difference is whether we want Arkansans who are responsible to engage in that production, or whether we want those dollars to flow out of state because we know we cannot prohibit the transportation or shipment through the state,” he said.

A bill filed Monday in the legislature would seek to put regulations on Delta-8 instead of enacting a total ban. Senate Bill 358 passed out of the Senate Agriculture committee on a voice vote Tuesday and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.