By Destiny Johnson
Oregon is set to become the first state to ban synthetic cannabinoids sold at grocery stores and other retailers beginning next month.
Oregon regulators say they’re restricting sale of the products over concerns about the chemicals used in production. But the move comes at the opposition of cannabis producers like Wyld, whose top-selling gummies include a synthetically created version of a cannabinoid known as CBN.
Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis. A chemical process can be used to isolate them or create them synthetically — in enough abundance to use in consumer products.
Synthetic cannabinoids that don’t contain THC, the ingredient in marijuana that produces a high, have been mostly unregulated. That means products like CBN could be sold on the open market, including at supermarkets and other retailers.
But the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission ban will prohibit the sale of synthetically derived cannabinoids on the open market — in supermarkets and other stores without a special license — effective July 1.
Then, starting in July 2023, it will only allow the sale of synthetic cannabinoids in OLCC-sanctioned cannabis shops after the products undergo rigorous and expensive testing and receive approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Perhaps the best-known synthetic cannabinoid is delta-8 THC. The Centers for Disease Control warned consumers last year that there had been more than 100 delta-8 exposures that required hospitalization in just six months across the country in 2021.
Delta-8, like CBD and CBN, occurs naturally within the plant. However, it exists in very small amounts, so a chemical process is used to extract it from CBD.
“The supply of CBD was outstripping the demand for CBD,” said Steven Crowley, the hemp and processing compliance specialist with the OLCC. “And so, the people who had CBD on hand were looking for other ways that they could market it. People started working on different products that they could convert the CBD into. This is where you get the delta-8 THC products.”
CBN, typically found in the marijuana plant only as it begins to die, is often extracted synthetically from CBD using a chemical process because extracting it conventionally would waste the rest of the plant.
CBN has not been linked to the same adverse reactions as delta-8. But the chemicals used in the extraction process have drawn the OLCC’s attention, Crowley said.
“We have testing for pesticides,” said Crowley. “We have testing for residual solvents from the extraction process. We don’t have any testing for any of the whole universe of chemical reagents that you could use to synthetically turn one cannabinoid into something else, or for any of the byproducts of that reaction.”
Gabe Lee, general counsel at Wyld and Wyld CBD, said losing the ability to sell CBN gummies at stores like New Seasons would be a revenue loss for his company and a big loss for customers.
“The Wyld elderberry CBN gummy is the number one selling gummy on earth right now,” said Lee. “It’s 20%-30% of our revenue depending on the state. People love it.” Instead, Lee said the state should require best practices instead of imposing an all-out ban.
“There are ways to regulate it and there are definitely ways that we can ensure that the end product that’s being sold is subject to enough safety testing and safety standards to ensure, to the degree possible, the safety of the product without any sort of larger federal research grants or anything like that,” said Lee.
The only way that Wyld and other producers could sell synthetically created cannabinoids at grocers like New Seasons after the July ban would be for the FDA to find that they are generally safe for consumers.
The FDA has approved only a handful of products derived from legal hemp, so it’s unlikely to approve synthetic cannabinoids for sale at OLCC-licensed stores.
And even if it did, relegating the products to licensed retailers would turn off some customers, Lee said.
“They may not want to go shop at an OLCC retailer or pay the prices that are up there,” Lee said, “because they are definitely charging a higher price in the OLCC regulated market than they are at New Seasons.”
The OLCC rules would also require disclosure labels for products that contain a synthetic cannabinoid. Lee said that could cause undue alarm among consumers.
Wyld has circulated a petition and hopes the OLCC will change course.
While Oregon will be the first state to enact a ban of synthetic cannabinoids in the open market, it likely will not be the last. The OLCC is part of a national nonpartisan group of government cannabis regulators. Other states, a spokesperson for OLCC said, are examining similar bans and policies.