DEA Asserts That THCA Doesn’t Conform to Legal Hemp Definition

In the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is defined as a marijuana product that contains under 0.3% delta-9 THC. Recently, a top official at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) clarified in a new letter that this limit included delta-9 THC as well as THCA, a cannabinoid which changes into delta-9 THC when heated.

In the letter, Terrence Boss stated that Congress had directed that the concentration of delta-9 THC be tested using techniques such as post-decarboxylation. Boss is the chief of the drug and chemical evaluation section at the federal agency. He explained that THCA derived from marijuana didn’t need to meet hemp’s definition under the Controlled Substances Act.

This clarification is in response to a request sent to the DEA by Shane Pennington, a marijuana attorney. According to the letter, the attorney requested information on the control status of THCA under the Controlled Substances Act. A similar request was also the motivation behind a declaration the DEA made in 2022, where it noted that cannabis seeds were considered legal hemp as long as they didn’t surpass federal limits of THC.

The agency’s latest letter on THCA comes as legislators reconsider how to term cannabinoids and hemp under an amended version of the agriculture legislation. One House committee recently included an amendment that would ban cannabinoids such as delta-8 THC, which are derived from hemp.

Basically, what the DEA is saying is that THCA levels need to be checked when the delta-9 THC levels of a product are being checked.

The U.S. Hemp Roundtable’s general counsel, Jonathan Miller, stated that this interpretation would decimate the hemp industry. He noted that most hemp cultivators, even grain and fiber growers wouldn’t be in compliance.

Currently, all hemp products have to have preharvest certificates of analysis to demonstrate product compliance. Since the legalization of hemp, delta-8 THC products have become popular in the market, existing under an unregulated section. Cannabinoids extracted from hemp are federally legal, but synthesizing it from CBD is easier and more cost effective so synthetic cannabinoids are more common.

In addition to banning cannabinoids, the recently drafted farm measure would revise hemp’s current definition and establish separate classes for cultivators that cultivate the crop for cannabinoid extraction, for animal and human consumption, as well as for industrial hemp producers who grow the crop for oil, grain, seed and fiber not intended for consumption.

Furthermore, producers of industrial hemp would also see decreased regulatory restrictions for compliance purposes.

Marijuana companies such as Verano Holdings Corp. (CSE: VRNO) (OTCQX: VRNOF) may not be happy that federal authorities are moving in the direction of prohibiting some hemp derivatives because that could be a huge setback given the way cannabis advocates have worked for years to roll back prohibition in many jurisdictions around the country.

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