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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington cannabis regulators make last-ditch effort to set rules for hemp-derived products

An array of products advertised as containing synthetically derived delta-8 THC is offered for sale at a smoke shop in north Seattle last week.  (Gene Johnson)

A bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers and the state’s regulating cannabis agency will have an eleventh-hour hearing on their plan to toss hemp-derived products from retail stores in this year’s legislative session.

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, revives regulation by the Washington Liquor Cannabis Board of intoxicating products that can cause effects similar to marijuana but are derived from federally legal hemp plants. A pair of bills proposed by state regulators, and one backed by the Washington Cannabusiness Association, failed to reach the floor before a deadline last month.

The failure of those bills leaves a legal gray area where stores not operating in the state’s licensed cannabis industry may sell hemp-derived products, including ones advertised as having delta-8 THC, on their shelves, Keiser said.

“Washington state has a well-designed regulatory framework for cannabis that has successfully protected consumers, encouraged a flourishing cannabis sector in our economy, and established public trust,” Keiser, who cosponsored the bill with Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said in a statement. “Everything we have seen over the past decade indicates that this system has proven to work well.

“But now, I am concerned that the proliferation of unregulated cannabinoids in gummy candies, vape oil and other products outside of the regulatory system could damage that public trust and potentially present a danger to consumers.”

Through chemical processes, the non-impairing compound cannabidiol, or CBD, abundant in hemp plants may be converted to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive element that creates the “high” in cannabis users. While regulators are concerned such processes occur outside their oversight, some firms growing cannabis in the tightly regulated state market argue they’re being undercut by hemp growers who can provide plants for pennies on the dollar.

Keiser’s new bill, which is scheduled to receive a public hearing Saturday, imposes a $25 fee on vapor and tobacco retailers in an effort to cover the costs of implementation. That fee extends the deadline for passage of the bill into next week under the procedural rules of the Legislature.

The CannaBusiness Association continues to oppose the bill because it prohibits cannabis products that are derived from the same plant family as those already available in stores, said Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for the trade group. They have instead backed legislation that bans hemp-derived products from the shelves of unregulated stores, but establishes a “scientific panel” based at Washington State University’s Center for Cannabis Policy, Research and Outreach to evaluate the safety of such products for potential inclusion in the regulated market. A report would be due by the end of this year.

Pickus said the association shared the desire of the Liquor and Cannabis Board and state lawmakers to get hemp-derived products off the shelves in other stores, where they could potentially be sold to minors without any safety testing.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Thursday.