DeWine calls for quick action on intoxicating hemp

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 23, 2024

COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday encouraged the Ohio General Assembly to work quickly to regulate intoxicating hemp to prevent its sale to children. 

Rogue chemists are modifying hemp, which is a legal, non-intoxicating plant, to extract a compound (Delta 8 THC) that causes a high similar to marijuana. The intoxicating hemp is being marketed in stores across Ohio as candy, cereal, gummy candy, and other products that are attractive to children. Because intoxicating hemp products are not currently regulated, Ohio law does not prevent its sale to children.

“The current loophole that allows these dangerous products to be sold to children needs to be closed as soon as possible. Right now, State Sen. Steve Huffman, R-5, is working on a bill to address this, and once it is introduced, I encourage members of the Ohio General Assembly to act quickly to pass it,” DeWine said. “These products are marketed to kids and are made to look like their favorite candy and treats. With no regulation and wide availability, it is all too easy for kids to get them.” 

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According to data from the Ohio Poison Control Center, there have been at least 257 reports of Delta 8 poisoning in Ohio over the last three years. In 2023 alone, there were 102 reported poisonings, including 40 involving children under the age of six. Ninety percent of these children required emergency care or were hospitalized after ingesting the intoxicating hemp.

According to Dr. Gary Wenk, emeritus professor of behavioral neuroscience at The Ohio State University and The Ohio State University Medical Center, Delta 8 products can have significant impacts on young, developing brains. 

“Children have difficulty paying attention in class; they become emotionally unstable; they have difficulting learning things; they stop attending classes; they start acting out at home. The parents know something is wrong, but if (their child) is just eating ‘cereal’ in their bedroom, it’s easy for them to hide,” Wenk said. “That’s why this is a crisis, it’s because it is a perfectly legal compound that does a great deal of well-documented harm.” 

By regulating intoxicating hemp, Delta 8 products would be sold with restrictions similar to Ohio’s new recreational marijuana laws that require products to only be sold by licensed retailers to those 21 years old or older. Regulation would also prevent flashy advertising and packaging that attracts children. 

To demonstrate how easily youth can purchase intoxicating hemp, Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Andy Wilson asked two 15-year-old children to purchase Delta 8 gummy candy at a gas station in Clark County. 

“Their instructions were not to be tricky and not to try to act older than they were. There was no doubt in looking at them that they were clearly underage,” Wilson said. “In under 10 minutes and within three miles of their high school, the kids walked into a BP gas station and purchased THC gummies with no questions asked.”

Under current law, both the purchase and sale of the item were legal.

Until intoxicating hemp products are regulated, DeWine encourages retailers to remove these items from their shelves to prevent harm to children.