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What Does The DEA’s Decision To Make Delta-8 A Controlled Substance Mean For Florida’s Cannabis Industry And Its Patrons?


As recently as the beginning of this millennium, legal cannabis was literally a pipe dream. You occasionally saw bumper stickers and T-shirts that said “Legalize It” over a picture of a cannabis leaf, but such merchandise was only available at concerts, independent record stores, and a certain reggae-themed kiosk at the Sawgrass Mills mall.  For decades, the squares who said, “Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance; end of discussion” had the last word.  In the past five years, however, cannabis laws have been changing so quickly that, when you try to keep up with them, you cannot help but wonder whether all of that possibly legal weed is messing with your head.  For the time being, plenty of cannabis products are available for sale in Florida to almost anyone.  You can buy marijuana if you have a medical cannabis card, and you can smoke a joint in public if you are in any of South Florida’s 420 friendly counties.  As for CBD, it is as easy to find in stores as multivitamins or Advil.  Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol is a glorious example of an uncontrollable substance that revels in Florida’s lawlessness.  It is a synthetic derivative of industrial hemp, but it can mess you up just as well as any of the earthy green substances that Snoop Dogg has ever rhapsodized about.  At least, it was until recently.  At the federal level, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has classified delta-8 THC as a controlled substance.  Here, our Miami drug crimes defense lawyer explains what makes delta-8 special from a chemical and legal perspective.

How Is Delta-8 THC Different From Weed?

In elementary school, when you learned to say no to drugs, you also learned that the psychoactive chemical in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  IN fact, that is only part of its name.  Its full name is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol.  It is possible to synthesize a similar molecule to delta-9 THC from industrial hemp; this similar chemical is delta-8 THC.  Its effects on the body are very similar to those of THC, such as a relaxed mood and increased appetite.  You will feel about the same after eating THC edibles as after eating delta-8 edibles.

From a chemical perspective delta-9 THC and delta-8 are isomers.  This means that a molecule of delta-9 THC and one of delta -8 each have 21 carbon atoms, 31 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms, but they are in a different configuration.

Delta-8 and Florida Cannabis Laws

Today, Florida law treats delta-8 as a hemp-derived product, as if it were a pair of sandals or a tote bag made out of hemp.  You can buy delta-8 edibles at CBD shops and even at gas stations, and you can even order it to smoke at hookah bars as if it were just another flavor of tobacco.  There have been proposals to formally categorize delta-8 as a dietary supplement and regulate it as such, but these have not taken off.  Thus, delta-8 exists in a legal gray area.

DEA Declares Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol a Controlled Substance

Earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a statement saying that it considers delta-8 THC a controlled substance.  It no longer considers delta-8 a hemp product, because it occurs naturally in hemp only in trace amounts.  In other words, the DEA considers delta-8 a synthetic drug.

It remains to be seen what will happen next regarding the legal status of delta-8 in Florida.  Federal law considers cannabis a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning that it has no federally acknowledged medical uses.  In other words, all of those states that have set up medical marijuana programs or even completely legalized cannabis for recreational use have done so at the level of state law.

The fact remains that cannabis laws are confusing, and they are changing quickly.  It is possible to get into legal trouble by possessing or using cannabis or cannabis-like products that you thought were legal in a context that you thought was legal.  Therefore, if law enforcement is on your case about cannabis, or even about a “not exactly cannabis” substance such as CBD or delta-8, your best choice is to hire a criminal defense lawyer.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys

“I didn’t know it was illegal” is not a valid defense to criminal charges in court.  A South Florida criminal defense lawyer can help you if you are facing criminal charges for possession or distribution of cannabis products.  Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo in Miami, Florida for a free, confidential consultation about your case.


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