Missouri’s legislative efforts to regulate intoxicating cannabinoids through the “Intoxicating Cannabinoid Control Act,” presented as SB984 and HB1781, respectively, represent a significant step toward addressing the complexities of intoxicating cannabinoid consumption and sales within the state. With more than 30 states already regulating intoxicating cannabinoids derived from hemp in some way, legislators look to catch up to existing regulations in other states and close potential future loopholes in a quickly evolving industry.

Senator Nick Schroer, R-St.Charles, introduced the Senate version, SB984, which aims to incorporate intoxicating cannabinoid products within the regulatory framework already established for THC products, “in line with the clear intent expressed by Missouri voters in 2018 and 2022 concerning medical and adult-use cannabis,” Schroer has said.

The bills, pre-filed in December, have garnered much attention in recent weeks as both versions have had public hearings in their respective legislative halls. 

During those hearings, both opponents and proponents of the bills agreed that intoxicating cannabinoids need regulation. But while opponents of the bills called the regulations overreaching and unnecessary, and railed against the idea of limiting the sale of intoxicating cannabinoid products to dispensaries in the state, they offered few solutions as to how to implement regulation. At times, those on the same side in the hemp industry seemed to contradict one another with some advocating for requirements that others seemed to feverishly oppose.

Nick Rinella | Hippos

Nick Rinella, CEO of Hippos, a Missouri marijuana licensee, has been vocal in his support for the bills since the start, emphasizing the importance of safety and equitable access. Rinella recently spoke to Greenway about why the “Intoxicating Cannabinoid Control Act” is of vital importance and why so many of Missouri’s marijuana industry participants are in favor of it.

“I think it’s a great step in the right direction,” Rinella said. “I am for access to these cannabinoids and intoxicating cannabinoids in general. But I think we need to have safe access.” 

The bills seek to address the proliferation of unregulated products that may pose risks to consumers, for a bevy of reasons. In Missouri, there are currently no laws that regulate the sale, production, testing, or packaging of intoxicating cannabinoid products derived from hemp. In fact, Missouri has no laws regarding intoxicating cannabinoids outside of those produced by licensed marijuana companies. While one must be 21 or older or have a valid medical marijuana card to even walk into a dispensary to view and obtain marijuana product that has been rigorously tested and is heavily regulated, anyone – no matter their age, can purchase similar products with similar effects from gas stations, convenience stores, mall kiosks, or your neighbor’s garage. Additionally, there is no requirement for the manufacturer or seller to disclose any information, no oversight of ingredients or processes, and no ramifications for selling these products to children.

That was the testimony of Captain Brian Taylor, of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department when he appeared before legislators in favor of the bill. Taylor is a 20+ year veteran of law enforcement, but he appeared as a concerned citizen and father, recounting his family’s own experiences with unregulated hemp products.

“I have three beautiful kids, but I have a daughter who started high school a couple of years ago. Like most kids, she struggled in high school to make friends and started hanging out with the popular crowd. To do that is of course to do follow the popular crowd,” Captain Taylor explained.  He went on to recount a story of his daughter trying an unregulated intoxicating hemp product with a group of friends, purchased from a convenience store right down the road from her high school. Her ingestion resulted in an emergency medical call to the school and Taylor said she was 15 at the time. There was nothing illegal about his daughter consuming the product or about the store selling it to another 15 year-old girl. But neither of them were fully aware of what they were consuming, Taylor said. “My frustration is from that of a parent,” he continued. “It’s frustrating in the fact that there’s not really much I can do about it, it was legal, there’s nothing that can legally be done about it.” Taylor urged committee members to pass the bill and create regulations on packaging and age-restricted sales.

“What this bill is guaranteeing is that consumers are going to get safe, tested product,” Rinella told Greenway. “That’s kind of the of the biggest thing that customers don’t necessarily have (with these products), and I think they’re getting confused as to what the products are exactly. People that are walking into CBD shops, or anywhere that’s not licensed by DHSS as a cannabis dispensary, and they’re purchasing product. It’s not tested. It’s not regulated.” 

“They can say that it’s tested, but they don’t have the same track and trace systems that we do as licensed companies in Missouri,” Rinella continued, “There are no real checks and balances, whether the people selling these products are who they say they are.”

Unregulated hemp products sold at a mall kiosk.

To Rinella’s point, some of these same retailers are currently struggling with a litany of other issues regarding the sale of vitamins and products marketed as healthcare supplements. Early in February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a notice about a band of products being sold at gas stations, convenience stores, smoke shops, and other locations. The majority of the products marketed as non-FDA approved supplements, contained tianeptine, an unregulated anti-depressant. Tianeptine exposure caused by ingestion of unregulated supplements in New Jersey, over 5 months accounted for multiple instances of tachycardia (11), hypotension (10), seizure (eight), prolonged QT interval (seven), prolonged QRS duration (four), ventricular arrhythmia (4), and cardiac arrest (one). Among the 20 reported encounters, 13 of the 17 patients were admitted to an intensive care unit, and seven of the 17 underwent endotracheal intubation. While these products were labeled with tianeptine, testing of samples found variable compositions, with multiple inclusions of synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) identified in samples of the ingested products.

In discussing the need for regulation of intoxicating cannabinoids, Rinella said, “I don’t necessarily think the retailers are doing anything bad, but they also don’t know 100% what they’re purchasing. In the state of Missouri, with the dispensaries, we know 100% what we’re purchasing. We have very stringent track and trace measures.”

“We have very stringent testing standards, some of the highest testing standards in the country. When you go to a dispensary in Missouri, you’re getting safe, tested product. And with all the different overdoses and scary things that you hear on the news every day, you know, that’s one of the beautiful things about dispensaries in Missouri is you can always feel confident you’re getting safe product. I don’t know how you can feel confident you’re getting safe products when you’re buying, these other products from, different stores, whether it’s a gas station or a CBD store.”

“(These unregulated products) could have heavy metals and residual pesticides and things that, are going to have long-term negative effects. Those are the things that I think people should be concerned about. And beyond that, these items, although they’re similar to the products that are found in dispensaries throughout Missouri such as Hippos. The fact is, that we just we don’t know what they are.” 

Intoxicating cannabinoid products on display show no warnings or age restrictions on packaging.

“When citizens of Missouri voted for legal cannabis, they voted for a regulated legal cannabis, and the reason they want to regulate it was because they wanted it to be safe, Rinella concluded. 

Right now, this is the only intoxicating product you can find anywhere in Missouri that’s not regulated. Why do we regulate intoxicating products? Because there’s a risk and a potential for harm. So I think this bill, is one of those common-sense bills. This is what everybody intended, and what everybody thought was happening to begin with. Unfortunately, there were a few loopholes that people have taken advantage of.”

The debate surrounding Senate Bill 984 and its implications for Missouri’s cannabis and hemp industries has elicited a wide range of responses from various stakeholders, including business owners, public health officials, and law enforcement. Yet, the consensus on the necessity of regulation speaks to a collective desire to ensure safety, consistency, and fairness in the burgeoning cannabinoid market.

Rinella, and other supporters of the “Intoxicating Cannabinoid Control Act” contend that by bringing intoxicating cannabinoid products under the same stringent regulatory standards as marijuana, Missouri can safeguard public health, ensure product quality, and uphold the will of its voters. 

 

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