A bill to ban hemp substances with synthetic or “psychoactive” components is headed to the Wyoming Legislature, though many lawmakers agreed it’ll need more work when it gets there.
“I don’t have any doubt that this is a work in progress,” said Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper), who co-chairs the Joint Judiciary Committee. “But I like the fact that this would at least be a step in what I think is a necessary direction.”
The legislation narrowly passed the committee in a 6-8 vote, with both Democrats and Republicans voting against it.
“As much as I want to move forward with this, I have an objection to the idea that unless we’re going to do more work on this bill today, it’s not ready for prime time,” said Rep. Art Washut (R-Casper).
Six people testified virtually Monday before the Joint Judiciary Committee in Douglas. All felt the bill needed work, and only one supported a ban.
“We have to do something other than prohibit our state growers of hemp from altering and producing this delta-8,” said Cody resident Richard Jones with Wyoming Citizens Against Normalization. “By not addressing possession of it, just manufacture, you’ve really accomplished nothing in terms of public health benefits.”
Others testified that lawmakers didn’t understand the benefits of cannabis plants, delta-8 extraction methods or how their bill could ban some cannabidiol products, or CBD. While several lawmakers pushed back on this CBD claim, commenters raised concerns about the terms “synthetic” and the bill’s lack of a definition for “psychoactive.”
“There’s CBD, which is considered a non-psychoactive, but by definition, it is a psychoactive because it alters your mood state,” said Marcus Jones, operations manager for Platte Hemp Company. “It elevates your mood state.”
Lawmakers, for their part, made it clear they didn’t want to harm hemp farming or CBD.
“If for one instance I feel this bill is going to prohibit CBD … I’m not voting for it, and I’m guessing most everybody on the committee is not going to vote for it,” said Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo).
Still, lawmakers like Rep. Ember Oakley (R-Riverton) felt the committee’s intention was clear enough to move forward with the legislation.
“I think this closes a hole that we’re hearing about delta-8 being abused,” she said, specifically noting younger people who’ve used it.
There have been reports of Cody High School students being sent to the hospital after consuming delta-8.
A main target of the bill is Wyoming’s booming delta-8 market, which grew out of a perceived loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill. That federal law legalized hemp, and delta-8 can be synthesized from hemp’s CBD. That process often involves synthetic substances, some of which have caused alarm among federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration.
Delta-8 THC has a similar structure and effect as the naturally occurring delta-9 THC in marijuana — the component that can get you high. However, only delta-9 was limited to 0.3% on a “dry weight basis” in Farm Bill language, later parroted in Wyoming’s own laws. Without a specific ban, many have taken this to mean any non-delta-9 THC is allowed.
Delta-8 naturally occurs in hemp in small amounts and has many similarly structured cousins — like delta-10 — that are also marketed in Wyoming.
Synthetic THC substances are already technically illegal in Wyoming, and while most delta-8 products come from synthetic instead of natural processes, a Wyoming Crime Lab employee has testified that their tests can’t tell the two apart.
Proponents of delta-8 have argued that the product is still natural, and while synthetic chemicals are used in synthesizing the substance, they’re used in synthesizing drugs like aspirin, too.
Even federal officials have argued over whether the Farm Bill made delta-8 legal, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found last year that it did. Meanwhile, Drug Enforcement Administration officials have said delta-8 isn’t legal because it’s made synthetically. Future federal rules are expected in this arena, but that’s unlikely to slow Wyoming’s roll.
Still, federal laws could put Wyoming in a tough spot, Rep. Karlee Provenza (D-Albany) suggested. The state can’t inhibit interstate commerce of a federally legal substance. If residents could still order the substance online and use it in Wyoming, Provenza said, banning retail could backfire.
“Then we’re just harming Wyoming businesses when I can still purchase the product and use it in my home,” Provenza said.
Monday’s public testimony elicited passion, fears and tears.
“I will never forget the day we brought my dad home after his first round of cancer treatments,” said Max Esdale of Cheyenne.
A father Esdale had known as a strong, hard-working and independent man now couldn’t stand on his own two feet.
“He was unable to eat, he couldn’t sleep,” he said. “The pain was just written deep in lines on his face.”
While Veterans Affairs helped him, Esdale said, they couldn’t talk about the marijuana plants his dad was growing illegally in his backyard. They’re something Esdale said helped him sleep, eat and made pain manageable without opioids. That was 16 years ago, and Esdale’s father is still around.
Esdale felt lawmakers were ignoring science on the health benefits of THC and should consider regulations instead of bans. He noted that he already consumes enough coffee each day to “kill a small horse,” but that psychoactive substance is legal.
“While I agree, there are legitimate concerns, there are good reasons to regulate, but we’ve largely found that the Legislature has been an unreceptive audience to anything but bans,” he said.
The call for regulations was popular. (That’s not surprising given that UW polling has found Wyomingites overwhelmingly favor legalizing medical marijuana.) Paul Yohe testified on behalf of the Green Room in Casper, as well as other local store owners, saying he supported requiring certificates of analysis, or COAs. They generally involve third-party labs testing products and ensuring they include what the label says.
“We obviously don’t want you to criminalize (substances like delta-8), but all of us are OK with regulating it,” Yohe said. “With more regulation, comes more accountability. Then we’ll be able to actually see what people are using in their products.”
There was a call to support markets already in Wyoming, including delta-8 and hemp farming. One person to testify, Shane England with the Hemp Industries Association, said that total THC bans — like what’s proposed in this bill — have negatively affected hemp in other states because all the various THCs can add up to more than 0.3% of the product.
England is also a managing partner of a hemp shop in Evanston.
Former Rep. Patrick Sweeney (R-Casper) also chimed in, recommending that the age limit to buy hemp substances be increased from 18 to 21, echoing a bill proposed last year that never got a vote in committee.
“Now, some of the operators and retailers may find that objectionable, but I think, without the ability for the lab to actually find a way to find if (delta-8 products are) naturally occurring or synthetic,” he said, this could be a way forward.
Still, Richard Jones with Wyoming Citizens Against Normalization was clear: He wants the substance banned, along with penalties for those who have and use it.
“In substance abuse prevention, one of the strategies is to prevent access to harmful products, whatever they are,” he said.
The bill that passed the Joint Judiciary Committee on Monday will go before the rest of the Legislature, which is scheduled to begin its short budget session on Feb. 12.