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New Jersey Legislature Considering Bill to Place Intoxicating Hemp Products Under the Regulatory Control of the State’s Marijuana Regulation System

Like many other states struggling to develop safety guidelines for the much-maligned hemp derivatives, some Garden State lawmakers want to use cannabis regulators to monitor the hemp sector.



The issue of how to regulate items containing intoxicating hemp derivatives (IHD) has swiftly become a topic of intense national interest for state legislatures, health officials, and consumers. The 2018 Farm Bill's legalization of hemp and its downstream products and uses for the first time in nearly a century has sparked a nationwide debate on the best approach to this burgeoning industry.


Since then, the hemp industry has experienced a meteoric rise in size and influence nationwide. In 2023 alone, it generated a staggering $28 billion, making it one of the fastest-growing sectors in America. However, this rapid growth has posed unique challenges for state leaders grappling with the long-term implications of the plant's contentious legal status.


Because the language of the Farm Bill is so broad concerning what constitutes a legal hemp item, products containing IHDs have ended up in smoke shops, convenience stores, gas stations, and other retail outlets across the country. That widespread proliferation has led to a handful of documented cases where consumers fell ill after ingesting an IHD item.


As a result, dozens of states have passed laws severely restricting or outright banning the sale of IHDs. One of those states considering a new bill to regulate hemp-derived intoxicants better is New Jersey. 


According to multiple local and national media outlets, New Jersey state lawmakers are working to advance a new bill that would regulate the production and sale of IHD products containing as little as 0.5 MG of THC per serving. Under the proposed measure, IHD items can only be sold in licensed dispensaries alongside cannabis products. In addition, the bill would amend the New Jersey Hemp Farming Act to set limits on the levels of THC allowable in hemp products.


The legislation calls for the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission to monitor and regulate the sale of all hemp and cannabis product offerings and create new rules and guidelines for retailers. The state's Department of Agriculture would remain responsible for regulating the cultivation of hemp. Finally, the Attorney General's Office would be responsible for law enforcement against businesses attempting to sell IHD products without a license.


Not surprisingly, Big Cannabis interests in the state not only support the proposed bill but are actively lobbying for its passage. 


"The main intent I think we would all agree to is that there is a phenomenal amount of unregulated, unlicensed, untested cannabis products on gas station shelves and convenience store shelves, and they don't go through any regulated process. Teens have access to this, and this bill attempts to capture that to prevent that," said Scott Rudder of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association.


"The main intent I think we would all agree to is that there is a phenomenal amount of unregulated, unlicensed, untested cannabis products on gas station shelves and convenience store shelves, and they don't go through any regulated process. Teens have access to this, and this bill attempts to capture that to prevent that."

- Scott Rudder of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association


Following an hour of testimony, the measure advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday by a 6–2 vote. While many of those speaking before the committee support the overall goals of the measure, they differ sharply over the details.


Much of the division over the bill's specifics centers on how to handle low-dose THC hemp-derived beverages, with brewery owners and liquor industry representatives opposing any provisions aimed at barring the sale of the popular IHD drinks. One of those individuals is Eric Orlando of the Brewers Guild of New Jersey, who suggested allowing alcohol licensees to apply for a special cannabis license, enabling them to manufacture and sell hemp beverages legally.


"We're not opposed to regulating these products, but we think we should afford local manufacturers the ability to produce and sell these beverages," he said.


"We're not opposed to regulating these products, but we think we should afford local manufacturers the ability to produce and sell these beverages."

- Eric Orlando of the Brewers Guild of New Jersey


Many critics of the bill also point out the preposterous cap of 2.5 MG of THC per drink. At that extremely low level, most people would not feel much, if any, intoxicating effects. Even the state's current legal limit of 5 MG per beverage is far too low to have any potentially harmful repercussions. 


"We're talking about a 12-ounce can that might have 5 milligrams of THC. You'd have to drink 30 of these cans to equal what it is in a joint," said Joe Grabowski, owner of Sarene Craft Beer Distributors.


"We're talking about a 12-ounce can that might have 5 milligrams of THC. You'd have to drink 30 of these cans to equal what it is in a joint."

- Joe Grabowski, Owner of Sarene Craft Beer Distributors


The measure still has a long way to go before becoming law. It must still face the gauntlet of the Senate Budget Committee before heading to the Senate floor for a vote. During that tenuous and treacherous journey, the bill is sure to undergo numerous alterations if it makes it out of the committee process at all.

 

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