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Will a ban stop people from consuming delta-8 THC products?


Delta-8 THC products are some of the most sought after hemp products on the market today. Despite their popularity (or maybe because of it), these products have been banned in more than 15 states.


The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp and all hemp-derived cannabinoids federally legal. This includes delta-8 THC products that are made from hemp. However, individual states are able to create their own laws that can be more strict than the federal ones.


While several states have already chosen a side on the delta-8 debate, lawmakers from other states have not agreed yet on the best way to react to this somewhat unexpected delta-8 craze. Should these states jump on the bandwagon and begin banning delta-8 THC products, or should they choose another option?


Bans haven’t worked in the past


If we intend to learn from the past, it is likely that banning Delta-8 THC products won’t stop people from making or consuming them. Did all Americans stop drinking alcohol during the federal prohibition on alcohol? No.


During the federal alcohol prohibition that lasted from 1920 to 1933, many consumers turned to the black market, which included underground alcohol sales and speakeasies. Alcohol was made, distributed, sold and consumed in secret. During this prohibition, there was reportedly an increase in crimes such as drunk driving, burglaries and even homicides.


The continued use of alcohol and the increase in crime were not the only problems with the alcohol prohibition. As a result of the prohibition driving alcohol sales underground, consumers lost their ability to make informed purchasing decisions. Reputable breweries and distilleries either went under or began producing other products. Consumers buying black market alcohol didn’t always know who made the product, how safe their process was or even what ingredients were used.


Many prohibition era alcohol consumers suffered blindness, paralysis or death after consuming methanol, which is also known as wood alcohol. Methanol reportedly smells and tastes nearly the same as ethanol (the alcohol that is safe to drink). Even small amounts of methanol are toxic. Yet, methanol ended up in many black market alcohol products of that time, which caused significant harm.


Bans aren’t working now


The alcohol prohibition of the early 20th century is not the only prohibition that has caused problems. Is the current prohibition on delta-9 THC working? Again, the answer is no.


Delta-9 THC products still exist on the black market despite being prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act since 1970. Roughly 40,000 people are currently incarcerated for cannabis-related charges; many of them are people of color.


This was documented in two separate reports published by a team of researchers from the American Civil Liberties Union and a team of researchers from Stanford University and New York University. Each research team analyzed a different set of police data, yet they came to the same conclusion. Both studies found that minorities are disproportionately searched and arrested for cannabis-related offenses, even in states that have legalized cannabis markets.


Like the alcohol prohibition, the current delta-9 THC prohibition hasn’t kept everyone from consuming banned products, although it has caused harm to numerous individuals and many communities.


What would likely happen if delta-8 THC is banned?


Historically, it has not been effective to ban a desirable compound because those who want it will continue to want it, and there will always be enterprising individuals ready to supply it.


However, there is no way to regulate something that is sold on the black market. This means that there is no way to make sure that growers, manufacturers and retailers use best practices. It also isn't possible to ensure that the products that are sold are safe for consumption.


Poorly made delta-8 THC can be a health risk


While delta-8 THC is not considered dangerous, poorly made delta-8 THC products could be dangerous. Although delta-8 THC is found naturally in hemp plants, it does not occur naturally in large quantities. Instead of harvesting delta-8 THC directly from the plant, most manufacturers harvest CBD from the hemp plants and then chemically convert the hemp-derived CBD into delta-8 THC.


This conversion process involves using a solvent to melt down CBD isolate and adding an acid reagent to cause a reaction. An alkaline material is added to neutralize the new substance. Then, the new substance is washed and distilled.


According to a recent NBC news article, dichloromethane is a common solvent used in this process, and this solvent emits toxic fumes when it is exposed to heat. When best practices are not followed, as is more likely to occur in an unregulated market, toxic chemicals may not be removed during the manufacturing process and could be left in the final products purchased by consumers.


“It’s not delta-8 that’s dangerous, it’s what it could be mixed with in an unregulated market,” Steven Hawkins, CEO of the U.S. Cannabis Council told NBC last month.


Reasonable regulations may be the safest path forward


Delta-8 THC products are in high demand, but they could be unsafe if they are not created properly. History tells us that a ban on delta-8 THC products would almost certainly fail to stop consumers from turning to the black market, which means that the ban probably won’t cause the results that ban advocates desire.


What other options remain? The answer lies in reasonable, common sense regulations.


In a legal delta-8 THC market, it would be possible to establish and enforce safety regulations. Businesses that produce safe, high-quality products would be able to continue doing so, while businesses that cut corners and create dangerous products are more likely to be penalized or even removed from the market.


Consumers, too, would benefit. They would have access to safe products made and sold by trustworthy businesses, as well as the ability to make informed decisions regarding the products they buy and consume. A ban on delta-8 products is not likely to succeed, but a legal market with common sense regulations could provide a safe path forward for delta-8 businesses and consumers alike.


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