Georgia Senate almost voted on cannabis product without realizing it

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What is delta-8 THC, according to the FDA?

‘It slipped by me,’ said senator about bill legalizing Delta-8 THC

An unlikely Senate duo — a conservative South Georgia farmer running for higher office and a liberal Atlanta preacher — have teamed up to help cannabis farmers with a bill allowing more hemp products in a state where marijuana remains illegal.

Few people initially noticed their bill would have authorized a hemp derivative called Delta-8 THC, a product already sold in stores that gives users a recreational high. Retailers are selling Delta-8 under a federal hemp law that doesn’t specifically ban it.

The Georgia bill got as far as the floor of the state Senate before opponents killed it.

No one mentioned Delta-8 when the bill was debated, nor did the legislation’s broad language make the change clear.

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Delta-8 THC is sold in stores such as the Georgia Hemp Co., but its legality isn't spelled out in state law.

Credit: Georgia Hemp Company

Delta-8 THC is sold in stores such as the Georgia Hemp Co., but its legality isn't spelled out in state law.

Credit: Georgia Hemp Company

Combined ShapeCaption
Delta-8 THC is sold in stores such as the Georgia Hemp Co., but its legality isn't spelled out in state law.

Credit: Georgia Hemp Company

Credit: Georgia Hemp Company

State Sen. Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla, said he supported the bill’s attempt to promote Georgia’s fledgling hemp farming industry. The cannabis plant is primarily used to create CBD oil, a popular product used for anxiety and sleeplessness that can contain trace amounts of THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high.

“What we were doing is trying to find a way to clarify the law as best we can as long as it’s within the federal limits of less than 0.3% THC,” said Harper, a candidate for agriculture commissioner. “We tried to cross the divide that’s so often seen in national media” between Republicans and Democrats.

His Democratic colleague on the bill, state Sen. Kim Jackson, said she had hoped for bipartisan agreement on a bill that promotes agriculture, one of Georgia’s top industries.

Prosecutors in Gwinnett County have threatened to treat Delta-8 as an illegal substance, but a judge last week issued a restraining order.

“When it came to our attention that there could be prosecutions of Delta-8, we felt it was important to make it explicit that Delta-8 is not illegal,” said Jackson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain. “I’m not opposed to a full hearing on it. I objected to the idea of killing the entire bill.”

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State Sen. Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla now running to become agriculture commissioner, said he was trying to promote Georgia's fledgling hemp farming industry when he supported a bill that would have authorized the sale of a hemp derivative called Delta-8 THC that gives recreational users a high. Retailers are selling the compound, which isn't as potent as marijuana, through a federal hemp law that doesn’t specifically ban it. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

State Sen. Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla now running to become agriculture commissioner, said he was trying to promote Georgia's fledgling hemp farming industry when he supported a bill that would have authorized the sale of a hemp derivative called Delta-8 THC that gives recreational users a high. Retailers are selling the compound, which isn't as potent as marijuana, through a federal hemp law that doesn’t specifically ban it. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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State Sen. Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla now running to become agriculture commissioner, said he was trying to promote Georgia's fledgling hemp farming industry when he supported a bill that would have authorized the sale of a hemp derivative called Delta-8 THC that gives recreational users a high. Retailers are selling the compound, which isn't as potent as marijuana, through a federal hemp law that doesn’t specifically ban it. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Hemp farming began in Georgia two years ago as a result of a state law that followed the 2018 Farm Bill, a federal law that legalized hemp farming and distribution while maintaining a ban on traditional marijuana, Delta-9 THC.

Because the Farm Bill made no mention of Delta-8 THC, which isn’t as strong as marijuana and has a slightly different chemical structure, companies began manufacturing and selling it.

At the Georgia Hemp Co., which has three stores in metro Atlanta, almost all its Delta-8 products come from other states rather than from Georgia farmers, co-owner Joe Salome said.

“Some folks like me are moving ahead without waiting” on a new Georgia cannabis law, Salome said. “We need to open up, not limit, but open up the opportunity for farmers to farm a product that people want.”

The Georgia hemp legislation, Senate Bill 481, started as a proposal to allow hemp farming by Georgians who are currently barred because they had been convicted of a felony. The bill would have allowed hemp farming licenses to be issued to individuals as long as they haven’t been convicted of a felony related to a federally controlled substance within the previous 10 years.

The legislation cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee, and then Harper introduced a new version of the measure in the Senate Rules Committee that included a seemingly innocuous line that would have given the go-ahead to Delta-8 legalization:

“Hemp products shall not be considered controlled substances due to the presence of hemp or hemp derived cannabinoids,” the substitute bill stated.

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State Sen. Kim Jackson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, said she backed a bill that would have allowed the sale of the cannabis product Delta-8 THC in response to threats by prosecutors in Gwinnett County to treat it as an illegal substance. “We felt it was important to make it explicit that Delta-8 is not illegal,” Jackson said. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

State Sen. Kim Jackson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, said she backed a bill that would have allowed the sale of the cannabis product Delta-8 THC in response to threats by prosecutors in Gwinnett County to treat it as an illegal substance. “We felt it was important to make it explicit that Delta-8 is not illegal,” Jackson said. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
State Sen. Kim Jackson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, said she backed a bill that would have allowed the sale of the cannabis product Delta-8 THC in response to threats by prosecutors in Gwinnett County to treat it as an illegal substance. “We felt it was important to make it explicit that Delta-8 is not illegal,” Jackson said. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

When the measure came up for debate on the Senate floor March 9, Agriculture Chairman Larry Walker said he had voted for it in the Rules Committee “not understanding everything that’s in the bill.”

“That’s on me. It slipped by me,” said Walker, a Republican from Perry.

Then the Senate voted 28-20 along party lines to recommit the bill to Walker’s committee, likely ending its chances of passing this year.

Legislators can study the issue before next year’s legislative session and then reconsider it, said Harper, who will no longer be in the Senate in 2023. Harper has no opponent in the May 24 Republican primary for agriculture commissioner. Three Democrats and a Libertarian are also in this year’s race.


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