Massachusetts Lawmakers Push Issue of Intoxicating Hemp Derivatives to the Next Legislative Session

Massachusetts Lawmakers Push Issue of Intoxicating Hemp Derivatives to the Next Legislative Session

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While emphasizing the urgent need to address the proliferation of hemp-based intoxicants in the state, political leaders said they would not be able to deal with them until after the upcoming Election Day.

 

Like many of their counterparts nationwide, several lawmakers in Massachusetts are concerned about the public health issue regarding products containing intoxicating hemp derivatives or IHDs. Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp and all of its downstream products and uses, IHDs have become a highly polarizing and politically toxic issue in the Commonwealth.

Leaders from both sides of the political aisle have expressed deep concerns about the widespread explosion of these items in gas stations, convenience stores, tobacco and vape shops, and a host of other retail establishments across the state. 

Because federal lawmakers have been unable to adequately address the topic in the oft-delayed trillion-dollar Farm Bill renewal package, state officials have been forced to confront the economically thorny subject, often with very thin resources to accomplish the daunting task.

While several Massachusetts lawmakers have attempted to offer legislation to establish more robust regulatory guidelines for the state’s hemp industry, particularly concerning IHDs, there has been minimal concrete movement in passing any measures during this current legislative session.

Now, according to the Commonwealth Beacon and other national media outlets, those same lawmakers are expressing their hopes to eventually put forth a bill to appropriately deal with the issue of hemp regulation and IHDs during the next legislative session following the critical upcoming Election Day this November.  

This past Tuesday, the State Legislature’s Joint Committees on Agriculture and Cannabis Policy convened to discuss hemp-based products, most notably IHDs. During the hearing, Rep. Paul Schmid, chair of the Agriculture Committee, expressed hope that the legislative body could adequately address intoxicating hemp products during next year’s legislative session.

“We hope that we can work with those who testified today to solve this issue, but we realize that a well-thought-out solution will require continued conversations into the next session and beyond,” Schmid said after the hearing. “As was highlighted in the hearing, this is a matter that involves significant portions of local, state, and federal law, whose concerns must all be satisfied.”

 

"We hope that we can work with those who testified today to solve this issue, but we realize that a well-thought-out solution will require continued conversations into the next session and beyond. As was highlighted in the hearing, this is a matter that involves significant portions of local, state, and federal law, whose concerns must all be satisfied."

- Massachusetts Rep. Paul Schmid, Chair of the Agriculture Committee

  

The primary purpose of holding the oversight hearing was to provide much-needed clarity regarding which state agencies are responsible for developing regulations and enforcing them on IHD product offerings. Agencies represented at the joint meeting included the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), and the Cannabis Control Commission, all of which provided statements about their respective agencies’ interactions with these controversial items.

“We have a situation where intoxicating hemp products are being produced probably from hemp that isn’t grown in Massachusetts, in labs that have no supervision, being put into packages that have no age requirements, and they’re competing with our lawful cannabis retailers,” Schmid said.

"We have a situation where intoxicating hemp products are being produced probably from hemp that isn’t grown in Massachusetts, in labs that have no supervision, being put into packages that have no age requirements, and they’re competing with our lawful cannabis retailers."

- Massachusetts Rep. Paul Schmid, Chair of the Agriculture Committee

 

For their part, the DPH and MDAR both expressed the position that hemp products are illegal, a dubious legal position considering judges in several states have already ruled that the Farm Bill legalized all hemp derivatives and uses. Despite those legal precedents, both agencies recently released guidelines stating that hemp-based products can only be sold by licensed cannabis dispensaries.

However, the onus for enforcing those rules falls on local health boards, which are painfully under-resourced financially and manpower-wise. “The current situation is untenable. The joint guidance is very welcome and it is going to assist in our ability to enforce, but it’s not a silver bullet. We’re still going to see those [hemp] Skittles and gummies, and beverages out there. We really can’t respond in force as quickly as we need to or with the clarity that we need,” said Cheryl Sbarra, the head of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards.

 

"The current situation is untenable. The joint guidance is very welcome and it is going to assist in our ability to enforce, but it’s not a silver bullet. We’re still going to see those [hemp] Skittles and gummies, and beverages out there. We really can’t respond in force as quickly as we need to or with the clarity that we need."

   - Cheryl Sbarra, Head of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards

 

The hope is that during next year’s legislative session, lawmakers can develop legislation clarifying which agencies are responsible for what and provide the necessary funding to help those regulatory bodies appropriately enforce rules and guidelines ensuring the efficacy and safety of hemp products. 

Massachusetts lawmakers face a situation similar to those confronting many of their counterparts in other states. A new Farm Bill, with provisions addressing hemp and IHDs, would be a nice Election Day gift for state politicians across the country. In lieu of that highly unlikely outcome, Commonwealth citizens will be on their own.