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Kentucky Hemp Association Sues State Over Delta-8

Hemp sprouts from the ground at a farm near Frankfort, Kentucky.
Hemp sprouts from the ground at a farm near Frankfort, Kentucky.

The Kentucky Hemp Association is suing the state following a series of police raids, arguing a THC product derived from hemp known as Delta-8 is legal.

Delta-8 is almost identical to Delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, and induces a similar, but milder “high” in users. 

Back in April, the legal counsel from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture issued a memo saying Delta-8 products are illegal under federal law and therefore, illegal under state law. The memo cites a list of controlled substances in the U.S. Department of Justice website that includes Delta-8. 

Attorney Chris Wiest, working on behalf of the Kentucky Hemp Association, says the ag department’s interpretation excludes language added under the 2018 Hemp Act that legalized Delta-8 products derived from hemp. 

“So now we filed a lawsuit to, sort of, make clear Delta-8 products are legal in Kentucky,” Wiest said. “I’m sure the Department of Agriculture is going to say they are not, and I think we just need to have a judge make that decision.” 

The legality of Delta-8 remains hazy around the country. Kentucky State Police and other law enforcement agencies have raided at least five shops carrying Delta-8 products since April, Wiest said. 

Department of Agriculture Spokesperson Sean Southard says hemp advocates initially assured lawmakers that hemp was not an intoxicating substance, and that the U.S. and Kentucky passed laws legalizing hemp by creating a definition separating it from psychoactive forms of cannabis. 

“Now, some want to argue that lawmakers accidentally legalized an intoxicating synthetic substance called Delta-8 THC. This position is outside the mainstream, so much so that even Colorado – a state known for legalizing recreational marijuana – has banned Delta-8 THC products,” Southard said in an email. 

Wiest says he will ask for a temporary injunction stopping raids on stores that sell Delta-8 products when the case goes before a judge in August. 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.