Beshear signs bill raising legal age to buy marijuana alternative in Kentucky

·4 min read

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed a bill into law Thursday to make it illegal for people under age 21 to buy products containing delta-8 THC, a marijuana alternative.

The bill, which passed unanimously through the legislature this month, also bars people under that age from possessing delta-8 and other hemp-derived substances and requires retailers to keep the products behind the counter. It also instructs the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to establish a lab-testing and approval process.

Beshear signed an executive order last year to regulate such products, but that only dealt with packaging and labeling.

"We did our best in an executive order, but we couldn't do many things in that executive order that you can via legislation," Beshear said in a press conference. "So, this really good bill codifies the executive order into law, but it does a lot else in establishing a regulatory structure."

The Kentucky bill's passage came after a series of Courier Journal stories about the eruption of the delta-8 market following the 2018 federal farm bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell supported the bill in an attempt to help the state's hemp farmers. However, an unforeseen loophole unexpectedly created the market for delta-8 THC items.

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Despite the booming industry, medicinal benefit claims and financial gain smoke shop owners have seen, these products have been met with concern over their safety and testing. Delta-8 products are not FDA-approved, and there previously has been minimal state and federal regulation on their manufacturing.

Sometimes as a result, these products can contain things such as residual solvents, heavy metals and mycotoxins, all things that can be potentially harmful for people to consume.

"We want Kentuckians to have access to the resources they need for relief," Beshear said. "We want to make sure they can do that safely, and this bill is a good first step."

Here's what we know about the bill.

More:What is delta-8 THC? 7 things to know about the marijuana alternative

What is in Kentucky House Bill 544?

The bill − which this month passed the Senate 36-0, with one abstention, and the House 97-0, with three abstentions − directs the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to "immediately begin the process of regulating delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol and any other hemp-derived substances."

The bill, sponsored by four Republicans and one Democrat in the House, prohibits "the sale, gift, or other transfer of possession" of the products to people under 21 years old, and bars anyone under that age from possessing them. It also requires retailers to keep products behind the counter and orders the cabinet to establish a lab testing and approval process.

Currently, there is no lab testing required for delta-8 and other hemp derived products to determine quality and safety of the products.

The bill directs the cabinet to enact the regulations by Aug. 1.

Some shop owners such as Daniel Barhorst at CBD Pure Hemp Oil in Prospect have been rooting for the hemp derived industry to receive more regulations.

"I actually think there should be more regulation of the products of delta-8 that are being distributed out there," Barhorst told The Courier Journal in February. "I think some of the products ... should definitely be FDA approved, so the FDA can actually qualify them."

More:As Kentucky debates medical marijuana, McConnell's hemp push already lets people get high

What is delta-8?

Delta-8 THC products, are products derived from hemp that can cause a "high" similar to, but apparently milder than marijuana. It is not a controlled substance under federal or state law, and last year a court ruling in Kentucky upheld the product legally.

Delta-8 is a naturally occurring substance but there is a manufacturing element used to produce enough of the cannabinoid to create various products, which include things such as gummies, seltzers and vapes.

"I think one of the things the public may not understand is that the delta-8 ... in these products is synthetic," Dr. Richard Sams, the scientific director at KCA Labs, a third-party analytical laboratory in Nicholasville told The Courier Journal in February. "It's not isolated from plants; it's produced by an acid-catalyzed conversion of CBD that's been isolated from hemp."

For subscribers:Want to buy delta-8? How these Louisville shops are focusing on selling it safely

Contact reporter Olivia Evans at or on Twitter at @oliviamevans_

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky HB 544: Beshear signs bill on marijuana alternative delta-8