WSAZ Investigates | Looking to Snuff Out Hidden High

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 7:00 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A proposal under consideration in the West Virginia Senate could ban Delta 8 THC in West Virginia, as proponents target faux products marketed to children, while opponents say the legislation goes too far.

These products -- that look similar to your favorite chips, candies and cereals -- contain Delta 8, a form of THC, which is an active ingredient in marijuana.

The proposal comes nearly a year after a WSAZ Investigation, in which the West Virginia Agriculture Department expressed concern that the products could fall into the wrong hands.

“They are actually labeled and packaged so that they’re very attractive to children, or younger people and they don’t know what they’re actually getting,” said Amie Minor last spring, director of regulatory and environmental affairs for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. “The consumer may actually get sick, or even die potentially, because they’ve consumed these products.”

The state Agriculture Department has said you are legally allowed to sell hemp products in West Virginia, including ones that contain Delta 8, as long as the products are grown naturally and contain less than 0.3% THC.

State officials tell WSAZ the manufacturers of look-alike products label them as containing Delta 8, but the products often contain much higher levels of THC than the legal limit – sometimes up to 10 or 15%.

West Virginia State Police told WSAZ last year that a product with 600 mg of THC would be equivalent to smoking about three joints of marijuana.

West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt recently told WSAZ Investigative/Political Reporter Curtis Johnson that his office has been attempting to get those products removed from shelves, but his department has run into several roadblocks.

“Did you guys come to a situation where you thought there was not statute to take the action that you wanted to take?” Johnson asked.

“That’s correct,” Leonhardt replied. “A lot of times we’re told to regulate things without any teeth.”

Leonhardt’s office has said when it identifies the illegal products and tries to take them off the shelves, staff has dealt with contention from store owners. They also say shell companies, who sell the products to stores, often disappear and are hard to track down.

Fast forward from last year’s WSAZ Investigation to now – Senate Bill 546 would place Delta 8 THC on a list of illegal drugs, such as heroin. That means all forms of Delta 8 – regardless of how much THC is within – could not be used in products sold in the state.

“Is this a development out of what we talked about last year?” Johnson asked Leonhardt.

“Yes it is,” he replied.

The bill is sponsored by former U.S. attorney-turned-freshman senator, Mike Stuart. He says his staff recently collected many of the items at local vape stores and even convenience stores.

“THC is the stuff that gets you high,” Stuart, R-Kanawha, told WSAZ. “My bill simply deals with those substances that get you high. There’s no medical purpose for any of these except to get you high.”

The ultimate goal to get those items banned in West Virginia. At minimum, Stuart and Leonhardt want an age restriction.

“You indicated to me that there’s no age restriction on these items, but the pictures you sent me say, ‘Adults 18+?’” Johnson asked.

“Those were put on from folks who were selling these goods,” Stuart said of the adult warnings. “I would argue those stickers are merely marketing materials to make the public feel a little bit better.”

Matt Peyton owns Thrax, a hemp company in Mason County. He says the bill goes too far, claiming it punishes those who follow the rules when using Delta 8 for their products.

“Specifically, our gummies that we make, this would make them illegal in the state of West Virginia,” he told WSAZ. “The state of West Virginia is probably where I would say 75% of our products are sold and consumed by legal adults. We put on all of our products that you have to be 21 and up to purchase.”

Leonhardt believes the proposal will be a game changer in keeping unsafe products off the shelves.

“We’ve got to make sure we get those things off the street,” he said.

Stuart says the has already passed out of committee. He said senators are currently working on an amendment before it hits the Senate floor.