The first time I ever heard about Delta 8 was coming off a line in a kitchen, when a co-worker handed me a vape pen and offered me a drag or two. When he told me it wasn’t “weed,” I was suspicious. I was aware of Delta 9, everyone knows it’s THC that gets you high, so, of course, it would be illegal here in the good ol’ Commonwealth of Kentucky. So what is this Delta 8 I’m hearing about all of a sudden, and how are they able to market it as “legal weed” and sell it if it isn’t synthetic? A month later I took a job as a sales associate for Steel & Leaf LLC and found out exactly that yes, it is legal weed-ish. What happens is manufacturers isolate other aspects of the THC molecule and derive them from CBD instead of cannabis, which, thanks to the 2018 Hemp Act, has made clear that hemp/CBD are a different plant and classification than cannabis.
While Kentucky is known for being a farm enterprise state, certain acts by lawmakers come along and work against our interests. Bills such as the Senate Bill 170 would make any “intoxicating” hemp-derived THC distillates illegal for purchase, for production or formulation. The national hemp industry is here, in the CBD market, in the derivatives, and if this bill passes into law, there would be virtually no incentive to grow hemp for any reason in the Commonwealth.
To understand the difference between cannabinoids is to understand that the THC molecule is like a jigsaw puzzle of tons of deltas, cannabinoids, isomers and molecular components that together complete a picture that looks like THC and work together to make you feel it inside and out. When you smoke cannabis as well as when you take a recommended amount of full spectrum CBD oil, you are smoking and ingesting Delta 8 as well. It’s there, naturally occurring and you may have never known that because why would you need to? Whether you’re taking it for neurological, gastrointestinal, cancer inhibiting reasons or because you may have anxiety, stress and/or depression; it works. It helps! What’s even crazier to me is that despite the name, Delta 8 being a recent concept to our cannabis and hemp markets, it has been known and extensively researched since the 1940s. This isn’t new, just new to consumers. What’s more is that Delta 8, Delta 9, Delta 10, THC-O and HHC are well-documented and researched cannabinoids that have been looked into by U.S. government research in hopes to inhibit cancer cells and neurological disorders previously. It was the crackdown of cannabis in the ‘70s and the move to classify it as a Schedule I controlled substance that halted and buried the years of research that has existed. It wasn’t until states started legalizing cannabis that the research we knew of was able to truly be explored. Ultimately, in a lot of ways, Delta 8 is new but the idea and record of Delta 8 is older than the law to criminalize it.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky has a vibrant history in the hemp farming industry. Once upon a time, a vast majority of our farms were growing hemp, and we have a unique opportunity due to the optimal growing conditions that hemp can grow very well here. In fact, the 2018 Hemp Act gave us a blazing green light to begin incentivizing farmers to grow hemp and we as a Commonwealth have made great strides to offer protection for hemp farming. There’s a huge problem though, one I wasn’t totally aware of until I got deeper in the field of CBD and THC derivatives. The state seems to lack the understanding and laws protecting individual farmers who want to produce, process and market THC derivatives and CBD flower.
Despite consistent gains across the country in the world of CBD floral farming and hemp derivatives, Kentucky has not budged on efforts to legalize hemp flower, production and marketing. Little by little, it has been undoing any hope we have as producers of hemp from tapping into where the hemp industry is currently seeing the most revenue and where I as a retailer of hemp-derived THC am seeing the industry continue to grow. We could, and by all intents and purposes should, be leading the country in CBD research, discoveries, formulation and processing. Instead we are bordering on being locked out of the nearly $650 million floral and derivative market and may lose hope in hemp thriving in the Commonwealth entirely.
Even Ryan Quarles of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture is warning potential hemp farmers to proceed with caution and that the market is unstable, but it isn’t at all. The market is strong, but mostly in an area we refuse to participate in, the floral market. The hemp industry is producing less fiber, grain and seed than recent years and squarely moving forward in formulation of THC derivatives, so why can’t we? Why would our legislature actively hinder our growth with bills like SB170 and take what little hemp we are still producing to be processed and formulated in products we would have no access to and cut us off from the industry at large?
To be clear, this fight for hemp is a separate one from the fight to legalize cannabis, and both deserve serious deliberation and research respectively. It is entirely possible to legalize cannabis while letting hemp derivatives continue to be grown, processed and manufactured in Kentucky and it would only stand to benefit us holistically either way. There is nothing to lose in continuing to allow THC derivatives to be produced and a whole lot to gain. If you haven’t tried Delta 8 or any hemp derivatives, I highly recommend you see what the fuss is about, check it out and tell your representatives you do not want to lose this opportunity for the health and economic benefits of cannabinoids and hemp in our Commonwealth.
Virginia Lee is the assistant store manager of Steel & Leaf LLC, a Louisville-based hemp dispensary.