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Massachusetts Lawmakers Push Intoxicating Hemp Regs to 2025


State lawmakers in Massachusetts say a bill to regulate intoxicating hemp products is unlikely to pass this year despite their insistence that regulations are needed. 

Massachusetts has legalized and regulated medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis, and both are tightly regulated under state law. Hemp products, however, are generally legal under federal law but unregulated at the state level. As a result, hemp products are widely available at retailers including gas stations, convenience stores and smoke shops throughout the Bay State without regulations governing their sale, including minimum age requirements.

On Tuesday, the state legislature’s Joint Committees on Agriculture and Cannabis Policy held an oversight hearing to consider proposals to regulate ingestible hemp products that contain THC. Democratic state Representative Paul Schmid, co-chair of the Agriculture Committee, decried the current regulatory environment for intoxicating hemp products at the end of the joint hearing.

“My goodness,” Schmid exclaimed, WBUR local news reported on Thursday. “We have a situation where intoxicating hemp products are being produced, probably from hemp that isn’t grown in Massachusetts, in labs that have no supervision, being put into packages that have no age requirements, and they’re competing with our lawful cannabis retailers. This is a heck of a situation.” 

The oversight hearing was held because of confusion in the state government about who is responsible for regulating hemp products and enforcing the regulations. At the hearing, state agencies including the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), and the Cannabis Control Commission offered input to lawmakers. 

Kimberly Roy, a member of the Cannabis Control Commission, said that hemp products the agency had tested by an independent lab often had 15 to 30 contaminants. She also said that licensed cannabis operators are being squeezed by competition from unregulated hemp products.

“Licensees who have in some cases spent a large portion of their personal savings and devoted their professional lives to building a compliant, regulated business are faced with the demoralizing site of intoxicating cannabinoid products being sold down the street with no regulation, no testing, and no protection for children,” said Roy.

DPH and MDAR maintained that unregulated intoxicating hemp products are illegal. Last month, the two agencies released guidance warning that it is illegal to sell edible hemp products outside of a regulated dispensary. But regulation is the responsibility of local health boards already strained by a shortage of resources.

“The current situation is untenable. The joint guidance is very welcome and it is going to assist in our ability to enforce, but it’s not a silver bullet,” said Cheryl Sbarra, the head of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards. “We’re still going to see those [hemp] Skittles and gummies, and beverages out there. We really can’t respond in force as quickly as we need to or with the clarity that we need.”

After the hearing, lawmakers said legislation to regulate intoxicating hemp products is needed but unlikely to be ready before the current legislative session ends on July 31. Schmid said he expects the issue to be taken up again during the next session, which won’t be until next year.

“We hope that we can work with those who testified today to solve this issue, but we realize that a well-thought-out solution will require continued conversations into the next session and beyond,” Schmid said in a statement, according to a report from CommonWealth Beacon. “As was highlighted in the hearing, this is a matter that involves significant portions of local, state, and federal law, whose concerns must all be satisfied.”

Pete Gallagher, CEO and co-founder of Massachusetts-based medical and adult-use cannabis multistate operator Insa, applauded efforts to regulate intoxicating hemp products while criticizing the delay.

“We are encouraged that lawmakers are focused on the public health concerns related to intoxicating hemp, but we are discouraged by the pace of progress. Intoxicating hemp represents a significant public health threat and an existential risk to the regulated cannabis market,” Gallagher wrote in a statement emailed to High Times. “The regulated cannabis industry employs tens of thousands of people in Massachusetts and generates more than $200 million in tax revenue for Massachusetts. Without stronger, swifter action by legislators and regulators, the safety of the general public, Massachusetts cannabis workers, and cannabis tax revenue are at significant risk.”

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