During the Thanksgiving season, it’s important to take stock and give thanks to even the most unlikely of allies. As the co-founder of a cannabis company, I couldn’t make gum with measurable amounts of THC without the hard work of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. That’s why I would say, “Thank you, Senator McConnell.”
Many people are surprised to learn that it is legal for us to ship chewing gum containing THC across state lines via the US Postal Service. But it’s completely legal, thanks to Mitch McConnell. How exactly did that happen?
Kentucky is one of 14 states that do not have medical marijuana, but for nearly a decade, Kentucky lawmakers have been able to legalize cannabis. At the time, people called it “industrial hemp” because they thought they were legitimizing it for fiber and grain. After its passage in State House, Kentucky lawmakers lobbied Senator McConnell to help legalize “synthetic hemp” at the federal level.
For years before that, efforts to legalize cannabis in the Senate were led by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. But after Kentucky legalized hemp in 2013, Wyden found a new ally in Mitch McConnell. Together, this unlikely bipartisan pair engineered a path to the legalization of cannabis at the federal level by incorporating a one-page pilot program into the 2014 Farm Act.
The 2014 Farm Act legalized “synthetic hemp” by defining it as a hemp plant with a delta-9 THC level not exceeding 0.3 percent by dry weight. That 0.3 percent is close to nothing, especially when anyone can buy cannabis flowers at state legal dispensaries with THC levels above 20 percent.
But while 0.3 percent THC is virtually non-existent, it is not zero. In fact, it is actually a very important thing. No one in 2014 had any idea McConnell’s experimental cannabis program would lead to legal THC gums. But the sequence of events that got us here happened very quickly.
Once the 2014 Farm Act was signed, CBD brands appeared to manufacture CBD oil from hemp. Some of these companies have even included a legal amount of THC in their CBD oil, calling it “full spectrum” as a subtle way to advertise their THC content without saying it too loudly.
In 2018, when Farm Bill was re-licensed, the cat was out of the bag. Everyone, including Mitch McConnell, knew that legalizing hemp meant a nationwide legal market for cannabis, exemplified by the popularity of CBD oil.
In the 2018 Farm Bill, the definition of hemp changed from its definition in the 2014 Farm Bill. First, the word “synthetic” was omitted from the word “hemp” in the first recognition that hemp has far more uses than the fibers and seeds. Second, some words were added to make clear that the intent of Congress was not just to legalize the cannabis plant, but also “any part of this plant, including … all derivatives, extracts, and hemp…” with a THC level of less than 0.3 percent.
This language made it very clear that cannabinoids like CBD are now legal, but what about THC?
Within six months of McConnell’s engineering to pass the Agriculture Act of 2018, the USDA General Counsel issued a memorandum removing all doubt about the USDA’s position that the Agriculture Act “amends [Controlled Substances Act] To exclude tetrahydrocannabinol in cannabis from Schedule I”.
So that’s it — THC that comes from hemp is now legal, as long as it’s less than 0.3 percent of the dry weight threshold that McConnell and his colleagues set in Congress. The “dry weight” of CBD oil is very light, but the company can still legally make full-spectrum CBD oil with several milligrams of THC per serving.
However, the concept of fully legal delta-9 THC in cannabis-derived extract has not been marketed to consumers in a robust manner. And then, about a year ago, there was a sudden boom in products containing delta-8 THC.
What is delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol? It’s essentially a synthetic hemp that has the “get high” effect of delta-9 THC but is made from a CBD isolate derived from hemp. And because the 2018 Farm Act explicitly legalized cannabis “isomers,” this delta-8 THC is legal, even though it’s rubbish.
The FDA has issued safety warnings about delta 8 THC, as well as NORML, the cannabis rights group, which has called delta 8 THC “unsafe for consumption.” It’s not often that the FDA and NORML are on the same page when it comes to cannabis advice, so it stands to reason that if both organizations have a problem with delta-8 THC, there’s likely to be a problem with delta-8 THC.
This is where the federal legal Delta-9 THC comes in to save the day. Why worry about delta-8 THC, when – thanks to Mitch McConnell – anyone living anywhere in the US can order USDA certified organic hemp products with a measurable amount of delta-9 THC in them And Were they delivered to their door by the US Postal Service?
In terms of legalizing cannabis at the federal level, there is still a long way to go. But the camel’s nose is under the tent, and the nose of that camel is balanced by chewing gum. And the man we have to thank for letting that camel put its nose under this tent is Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Once again: Thanks Mitch!
Jim Higdon is one of the founders of corn hemp and author The cornbread mafia. he is Covers Kentucky for the Washington Post, cannabis policy for Politico, and freelancers elsewhere