DEA Rules THCA Is Not Legal Hemp Amid Industry Shake-Up And Farm Bill Debate On Delta-8 THC Prohibition

Zinger Key Points
  • The DEA clarifies that THCA must be included in THC levels to meet hemp's legal definition, causing industry concern.
  • Major companies, including Curaleaf, oppose the Farm Bill amendment that targets hemp-derived cannabinoids like delta-8 THC.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently clarified that the cannabinoid THCA must be included in THC concentration levels to comply with the legal definition of hemp, as specified by the 2018 Farm Bill. In a letter dated May 13, Terrence Boos, chief of the DEA's drug and chemical evaluation section, stated that THCA, which converts into delta-9 THC when heated, must be counted in THC concentration calculations. This interpretation has raised concerns within the hemp industry, which fears significant compliance issues.

In his letter, Boos explained that the legal threshold of 0.3 percent delta-9 THC applies to both delta-9 THC and THCA post-decarboxylation, reported Marijuana Moment. “Cannabis-derived THCA does not meet the definition of hemp under the CSA,” Boos stated. This stance responds to a clarification request from cannabis attorney Shane Pennington and comes as Congress revisits cannabinoid regulations in the Farm Bill.

Industry Reaction And Concerns

Industry stakeholders, including the U.S. Hemp Roundtable expressed strong opposition to this interpretation. Jonathan Miller, the group’s general counsel, warned, “This interpretation would destroy the hemp industry.” Miller noted that most hemp farmers would be out of compliance under these new guidelines and alerted supporters to the amendment's introduction, urging lawmakers to defeat it.

Also, Shawn Hauser, co-chair of Vicente LLP's hemp and cannabinoids practice, noted that the Farm Bill requires pre-harvest THC testing, including THCA. She pointed out that “a plant with high THCA likely exceeds the maximum allowable THC content and wouldn't be lawful,” highlighting the confusion among businesses and state regulators.

Congress Discusses Hemp-Derived Cannabinoids Prohibition

Moreover, the DEA’s letter on THCA arrives as federal lawmakers reconsider how to address hemp and cannabinoids under a revised version of the Farm Bill. A key House committee passed an amendment on Thursday that would ban the majority of hemp-derived cannabinoids such as delta-8 THC. Introduced by Rep. Mary Miller (R), the amendment proposes that cannabinoids synthesized or manufactured outside the plant would no longer meet the definition of legal hemp.

Some stakeholders, like the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC), support stringent regulations on intoxicating hemp products. The USCC includes major companies such as Curaleaf Holdings CURLF, Canopy Growth CGC, Cresco Labs CRLBF, MariMed MRMD, Acreage Holdings ACRDF, Verano Holdings VRNOF, Dutchie, Pax Labs and more. They argue for consistent safety standards. 

However, Marijuana Moment notes other industry voices fear such measures might inadvertently criminalize non-intoxicating CBD products, which often contain trace THC levels.

Curaleaf’s Position On Miller’s Farm Bill Amendment

Meanwhile, Curaleaf Holdings, the largest U.S. cannabis company, recently entered the hemp-derived THC products market and responded to the proposed legislative changes. Boris Jordan, Curaleaf’s executive chairman, criticized the Miller amendment to the Farm Bill, which aims to restrict hemp-derived cannabinoids like delta-8 THC.

“We disagree with yesterday’s amendment filed by Mary Miller (R-IL), which is an attempt to roll back the Farm Bill,” Jordan stated. “We support hemp farmers, and we believe that hemp-derived products made within the guidelines of the Farm Bill should be available to adults with strict age gating and safety standards. We believe there should be one regulatory framework for all cannabinoids, and that all legal players in the hemp-derived product market must adhere to the same safety and age restrictive standards in order to combat the dangers of the illicit market – just as in cannabis.”

This issue will be discussed in depth by hemp industry leaders at the upcoming Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Chicago on Oct. 8-9. Get your tickets now before prices surge by following this link.

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Posted In: CannabisGovernmentNewsRegulationsCBDDEADutchiefarm billHempJonathan MillerShane PenningtonShawn HauserTHCAU.S. Hemp RoundtableVicente LLP
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