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Florida hemp Bill slated to cross the finish line with protections for children, but no Delta-8 ban

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers are poised to send a bill the Governor aimed at protecting children from psychoactive hemp products packaged like regular candy, but there’s one big change that didn’t make it into the final product.

“This is a wonderful and a very important vital first step,” said Senate sponsor Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland) during floor debate Friday.

The bill, which is set for a final vote in the House Tuesday, would require all hemp products intended for human consumption to abide by food safety standards and prohibit the products and their packaging from resembling candy that may be attractive to children.

The bill also raises the age to purchase hemp products intended for ingestion to 21.

But Burton acknowledged lawmakers were unable to include a ban on the psychoactive chemical Delta-8, a chemical cousin to THC Delta-9, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s intoxicating effects THC Delta-9.

Delta-8 has been responsible for nearly 2,400 cases of toxic exposure to hemp reported to the FDA in the past year.

Nearly 1,000 of those cases involved children younger than five.

“The producers and sellers of those products were very concerned about their future,” said Burton.

Gabe Suarez, who owns Natural Life in Jacksonville, is one of those sellers.

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Suarez said his stores do offer Delta-8 products, but they aren’t the primary focus of his business.

“The benefits of hemp, the benefits of any cannabis, are majorly outside of THC,” said Suarez.

However, he and other hemp retailers did oppose the proposed ban on Delta-8, seeing it as an attempt by the medical marijuana lobby to stifle competition in the THC market.

While the ban may have been stopped this year, he acknowledged it’s likely just a matter of time before the products are shelved for good.

“Whoever has the bigger purse gets to decide what happens,” said Suarez.

Jeff Sharkey represents both the Florida Hemp and Medical Marijuana Business Associations.

He doesn’t believe Florida medical marijuana providers were the driving force behind the push to ban Delta-8, but he agreed with Suarez on the likely future of Delta-8, especially with federal agencies like the FDA issuing consumer warnings on the products.

“This bill was a very strong signal that there are some strong concerns about Delta-8 products. How they’re sold, how they’re labeled and who’s buying them,” said Sharkey.

As far as the new requirements that did make it into the final bill, Suarez said his company already abides by many of the standards mandated in the legislation and he thinks it will help cut down on bad actors in the marketplace.

On the other hand, he pointed out that by not differentiating between non-psychoactive products like CBD and psychoactive Delta-8 products when it comes to the new age limit, some adult consumers could be negatively impacted.

“So, an 18-year-old that might have been consuming a completely THC-free CBD tincture with no psychoactive effects, that might have been able to slow down seizures or be able to handle better sleep or anxiety or depression or, you know, so many things now won’t have access to it,” said Suarez.

If passed by the House Tuesday, the legislation will then head to the Governor’s desk.

If signed, the new regulations will take effect on July 1.

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