State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock has authored a bill banning delta-8, the hemp derivative that has a similar effect to marijuana, but Texas veterans have vowed to gather at the state capitol to oppose the legislation, claiming that the product helps treat symptoms they suffer as a result of their service.
Senate Bill 264 is not Perry’s first attempt to ban the product and has said that the Legislature never intended to legalize substances that make people high, but delta-8-infused products have become so sought-after by veterans that they became a staple in vending machines at six Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) posts across the state, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The VFW is advocating for an expansion of the state’s limited medical marijuana program to include patients with chronic pain, and they say the state-regulated products tend to be more expensive and less convenient to buy, and veterans deserve to have choices.
Veterans, many of whom face pain, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are prescribed powerful medications to treat those symptoms, and some have found the drugs left them feeling numb and tranquilized.
Martin “Ty” Cobb, 48, a retired U.S. Army veteran from Houston told the Houston Chronicle that he tried delta-8 three years ago and was “blown away” by how much it helped his condition. Three years later, he’s stopped taking many of his prescription medications, saying he’s found delta-8 has allowed him to open up a dialogue with loved ones about what he’s going through and his unresolved guilt over being away from his family for so long.
“I don’t understand why they would ban it outright,” Cobb said. “This has helped so many veterans … so why take this away from us now?”
Delta-8, typically found in edibles or vape cartridges, exploded in popularity in 2019 when Texas legalized hemp production after the passage of a federal law reclassifying the plant from an illegal drug to an agricultural commodity. House Bill 1325 was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019, allowing Cannabidiol (CBD) products to be sold statewide.
Due to a loophole in those laws, they set a 0.3 percent limit on the concentration of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which induces the high associated with marijuana.
But the laws did not address the less common compound found in the plant, delta-8 THC, which can cause a similar feeling to marijuana, especially in larger dosages. The result has been a boon to vape shops that carry the product, as sales of delta-8 grossed over $2 billion in sales in just two years since the law was passed.
Not everyone is in favor of allowing the law to remain in force. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) along with the medical dispensary industry, and some consumer groups are warning the public that delta-8 products are potentially dangerous as they aren’t subject to the same manufacturing standards, testing requirements, and other regulations.
As concerns over the unregulated drug grow, 14 states have prohibited delta-8 sales in recent months, according to NBC.
But the primary reason that the medical cannabis industry is opposed to delta-8 is likely a loss in sales — as one has cited a roughly 10 percent drop in enrollees in medical marijuana treatment — the equivalent of about 3,000 patients.
Nico Richardson, the interim CEO of Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation, one of three medical cannabis companies licensed in Texas, said “We just don’t know what the safety profile is…our medicine is very highly regulated, and a high level of scrutiny goes into testing.”
Through the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP) Texans with a variety of conditions — such as epilepsy, autism, cancer, and post-traumatic stress disorder — can access cannabis oil with less than 1 percent THC content by weight.
The state’s rules regulating how patients get their medicine are another obstacle for the medical marijuana program — which sellers of delta-8 consumer products do not face in the countless CBD shops in the state.
Medical dispensaries, the Texas VFW, and marijuana consumer advocates favor a bill by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, House Bill 1805 — which would add chronic pain “for which a physician would otherwise prescribe an opioid” as a qualifying condition.
It would also raise the THC limit from 1 percent by weight to 5 percent by weight. This would reduce the amount of non-hemp filler currently being added to hemp products.
Delta-8 remains legal in Texas as an ongoing lawsuit against DSHS determines whether the agency can outlaw delta-8. A district court judge ruled DSHS didn’t follow Texas’ legal requirements when it listed delta-8 as an illegal drug — and therefore can’t enforce the order making the drug illegal.
The injunction will remain until an official decision is made in the case.
Dispensaries have sued to try to get delta-8 declared illegal. Hometown Hero, an Austin-based dispensary involved in the legal battle, did not respond to a request for comment but said in a 2022 YouTube video that no court date had been set for the case, according to the Texas Tribune.
Jax James, executive director of Texas NORML, a marijuana consumer advocacy group, said that while veterans and others may have had good experiences with delta-8, her primary concern is safety — and transparency.
“If they’re (Texans are) using it for a medical reason, I would love for them to have a safe, effective and affordable option versus hoping the store they went to has good testing on their products,” James said.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “It is important for consumers to be aware that delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context. They may be marketed in ways that put the public health at risk and should especially be kept out of reach of children and pets.”