Unlicensed THC product sales continue to draw concern from state officials

Attorney General William Tong said this week that sales of over-the-counter THC products are unsafe, unregulated and should be reported to the authorities.

“This product likely violates several of our packaging and advertising provisions and may be in violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act,” Tong said in a statement. “In addition, unlicensed sale of cannabis is a criminal violation. Anyone who sees these products for sale should contact both the Office of the Attorney General and local law enforcement.”

The state has not yet licensed any retailers for recreational adult-use cannabis sales, but expects to by the end of the year.

The Record-Journal found two CBD, vape and tobacco stores in Meriden and one in Wallingford retailing delta-8 and delta-9 THC in gummies and rolled joints. THC is the psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis.

Product names included Caviar Kush and Peachie O’s with brightly colored packaging resembling that of candy. Other similar products were in plain packaging. None contained lot numbers or a list of ingredients. Tong issued his statement after viewing a photo of a sample purchased by the Record-Journal in downtown Meriden this week.

Local shop owners, however, said they did not believe it was illegal to retail the products.

Two owners defended their sales by pointing to the Farm Bill of 2018 which legalized the sale of hemp products providing they contained less than .3 percent THC based on a dry weight basis. One shop owner said the average of 10% to 15% of THC in the products is significantly less than a dispensary average of 25% to 30%.

Most of the products are a combination of delta-8 and delta-9 THC which is derived from the hemp plant in a process to extract THC. The combined weight of the products can yield a higher THC volume than .3 percent.

Just like with conventional THC, these products vary in strength. Some boasted THC content as high as 600 milligrams in a five-gummy package that retailed over the counter in Meriden for $20.

The state Department of Consumer Protection issues vape-accessory licenses to vape and tobacco shops. The department is also working on a lottery system to grant dispensary and cultivation licenses to operators in the adult-use marijuana program.

When shown a picture of a gummy package purchased in downtown Meriden this week, DCP officials said it doesn’t regulate businesses that don’t get licenses through the department. However, a department spokeswoman agreed with Tong’s concerns about the packaging.

“There are strict packaging requirements for both adult-use and medicinal marijuana products sold by licensees in Connecticut,” said DCP spokeswoman Kaitlyn Krasselt. “The packaging in the photo does not appear to comply with those requirements.”

Unlike products sold in dispensaries, delta-8 and -9 products often do not contain lot numbers or a list of ingredients designed to let consumers know what they are ingesting. It’s also unclear if age restrictions are being enforced.

Delta-8 THC is regulated in Connecticut, so you can only buy it from licensed cannabis retailers. The state passed Bill 1201 last year, which legalized adult-use cannabis and added delta-8 to the definition of THC and marijuana.

Risk to children

Last year, the town of Wallingford prohibited all local cannabis production and sales. State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, who also serves as an elected town councilor in Wallingford, was not aware of illicit retail sales of THC products in Wallingford and Meriden, but said he warned of the possibility during the debate over recreational marijuana.

“During the debate on the bill, I mentioned that the proposed language, if it passed, could permit situations like this could occur – to no avail,” Fishbein said in a statement. “Reports from the Connecticut Department of Health have shown a significant uptick of instances where children have ingested these products, to their detriment. It is shameful that during the public hearing on the alleged ‘legalization,’ no one from the Department of Public Health or the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services showed up to testify about the pros or cons of our state permitting the sale of these products. “

Fishbein, a family law attorney, said he has seen cases over the last year where parents and children are significantly negatively impacted by the use of cannabis products, he said.

Democrat Rebecca Hyland of Wallingford, a former public defender who is challenging Fishbein in the 90th House district race, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Tong issued a warning in November to the public about the dangers of cannabis edibles and hemp derivatives in packaging designed to look like well-known snack foods and candy.

“These products are unregulated, illegal, and may be extremely dangerous,” Tong said in a press release. Examples confiscated by law enforcement resembled Sour Patch candies and Oreo cookies.

“These products may contain high concentrations of (THC) … and if eaten by children, can lead to an accidental overdose,” according to Tong’s prepared statement.

In the first nine months of 2020, 80 percent of calls related to marijuana edibles to the Poison Control Center were for pediatric exposure. In the first half of 2021 alone, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that poison control hotlines received an estimated 2,622 calls for services related to young children ingesting cannabis products.

The Connecticut Poison Control Center received 88 calls in 2020 regarding child exposure to edible marijuana, and 58 calls in the first seven months of 2021.

“These look-alike cannabis products are unregulated, unsafe, and illegal, Tong said. “While Connecticut recently legalized adult-use cannabis, many of these products fall far outside the range of what will ever be safe or authorized for sale.”

In the same press statement, Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull said the candy-like packaging raises an important safety issue.

“Not only are these products being sold illegally, but the deceptive packaging that does not clearly indicate to the consumer what they are ingesting is extremely dangerous, especially when there may be children in the home,” she said.

For that reason, the state has mandated that all packaging be plain black and white, and child-proof, so there will be no mistaking it for a non-cannabis product.

“Once the market launches and legal sales begin, this distinct packaging will help consumers recognize these regulated products,” Seagull said.

Moreover, when retail establishments are licensed to sell cannabis, edible products will be subject to strict safety controls. For example, a single adult serving size of an edible cannabis product under statute can only contain five milligrams of THC, and a multiple-serving package of an edible cannabis product shall contain no more than 100 milligrams of total THC, according to the Department of Consumer Protection.

If a child ingested a full bag of gummies containing 600 milligrams of THC, he or she would be consuming 120 times the maximum legal adult serving, the warning stated.

A spokesman for the state Department of Public Health said Friday the department could not share additional information about sales in vape and tobacco shops, because it “does not play a role in licensing these products.”

[email protected]: @Cconnbiz

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