The State of Delta-8: Booming Business?

And how potential cannabis reform could affect business

Hemp fields at Tejas Hemp (Photo by John Anderson)

Not long ago, Green Cross CBD owner John Elmore put a sandwich board with the words "Delta-8-THC" on the sidewalk outside his East Austin storefront. "There [were] literally tire marks outside the shop on Cesar Chavez from people slamming on their brakes, coming in, and saying, 'What's Delta-8-THC?'"

The trending cannabinoid (a chemical compound from the cannabis plant) – Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol – is an isomer of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, one extracted from hemp. Although it is psychoactive, Delta-8 differs on a molecular level from Delta 9, which is the most well-known and discussed ingredient in marijuana, and produces a much milder "high."

Delta-8 didn't initially interest Elmore when he began getting calls about it last summer. He was hearing about it in the context of being a legal high, while his store focuses on health and wellness, so only when he sampled Delta-8 for himself did he see its remedial potential. According to Elmore, that was confirmed when a seriously injured client found it effective for pain management, appetite stimulation, and getting a good night's sleep. He reports that another customer switched from CBD to Delta-8 for his neuropathy because it helped him more.

Green Cross began selling Delta-8 products last September, and Elmore characterizes the market as an "absolute game changer" for his business' bottom line. Vape cartridges are his best seller, followed by gummies and flowers.

"People are loving having legal access to it – not having to deal with sketchy people or breaking Texas' laws," he notes.

But this latest piece of the cannabis plant puzzle – and all of the surrounding reform legislation swirling around on local, state, and federal levels – is just the latest in ongoing efforts on both sides of the issue.

“The exploding popularity of Delta-8 products has created needed financial opportunities for Texas extraction labs and farmers.” — Texas Hemp Growers Association President Zachary Maxwell

While Delta-8-THC products are overwhelmingly extracted from federally legal hemp, there remains a concern the cannabinoid could be banned by the state. Such a worry cropped up in recent weeks with House Bill 3948, a revision of Texas' hemp program that's currently making its way through committee. While the bill contains several tweaks that could benefit in-state hemp producers, the legislation's original text included language that risked dooming the Delta-8 boom. It raised the total allowable THC content from 0.5% to 1%, but stopped making a distinction between Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and its previously unregulated isomers, meaning Delta-8 would've been capped at an ineffective 1%.

"The exploding popularity of Delta-8 products has created needed financial opportunities for Texas extraction labs and farmers," Texas Hemp Growers Association President Zachary Maxwell told the Chronicle. "To take that away with a total ban would put Texas' hemp industry at a significant disadvantage to other states."

However, at an April 8 Agriculture and Livestock Committee meeting, a substitute version of the bill was presented that specified THC limits as Delta-9, averting the threat to Delta-8 legality. An aide for HB 3948's sponsor, Rep. Tracy King, told the Chronicle that the legislation had been authored by Sen. Charles Perry, and had originally intended to limit Delta-8 levels, but King's substitute bill corrects that, among other things.

The looming threat to the Delta-8 market – including a recent attempt to widespread-ban smokable hemp products, one that the Texas Department of State Health Ser­vices attempted to put into law – has been tied up in district court since last summer. If upheld, Delta-8 vapes, flowers, and pre-rolls would be outlawed.

"It's a huge concern – not just financially as a small business owner, but it's a concern of mine because I've seen the medicinal value that [Delta-8] offers for people," Elmore says of any new laws or regulations that would impede Delta-8 sales. "My goal is to help people to have access to natural medicine so they don't have to take so many pills."

In the bigger picture of cannabis-related legislation, April saw several bills emerge through House committees. Two of them deal with penalty reduction: HB 2593 (Rep. Joe Moody) reduces the penalty for small-scale possession of THC concentrates, meaning less than 2 ounces. House Bill 441 (Rep. Erin Zwiener) pulls down the punishments for holding up to an ounce of marijuana flower, making it a class C misdemeanor in which the possessor cannot be arrested, lose their driver's license, or have the charge added to a criminal record. Meanwhile, HB 1535 (Rep. Stephanie Klick) expands Texas' extremely limited medical cannabis program in strength and scope. It would allow treatment products to contain up to 5% THC (a notable jump from 0.5%) and open medical services up to cancer patients, veterans with PTSD, and people with chronic pain.

Lawmakers now wait and see if they get scheduled for a House vote, where if they pass, they'll go into the much more daunting domain of the Texas Senate.

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