Comment: Close risky loophole on synthetic cannabis products

New intoxicating products are being sold outside of licensed stores; legislation would end their sale.

By Shelley Kloba / For The Herald

Walk into a local gas station or vape shop and you might find synthetic cannabis on the shelves, including gummy bears designed to appeal to children. These products often contain forms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the ingredient in cannabis responsible for the high associated with marijuana.

How is this legal?

It shouldn’t be.

The voters of this state passed Initiative 502 to create a safe, regulated and taxed market for the adult use of cannabis; much like liquor and alcohol sales.

Those new products on the shelves of gas stations and vape shops are exploiting a loophole in our state laws. Unlike the products sold at state-licensed cannabis stores, these items are not tested or regulated. Nobody is double-checking the quality, strength or safety of these synthetics.

That makes them dangerous; to our friends, our neighbors, and our children.

Here’s the problem and what we can do about it: When voters approved I-502, it defined an active ingredient of cannabis, THC, by its specific chemical name: delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. Being specific is the right thing to do when making laws.

Our problem is companies are exploiting this as a loophole for profit by creating synthetic cannabinoid chemicals that technically aren’t delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol under the law. What exactly is in these products? That varies, which is the problem.

As long as there’s an impairing or intoxicating effect, and return customers creating profit, these companies will keep exploiting the loophole.

Yet that initiative, and additional state laws, were written to protect consumers. When cannabis or alcohol is tested and regulated, that protects the health and safety of everyone. Unregulated drugs, whether they’re sold in a gas station or on the street, aren’t as safe.

The same thing happened before cannabis was legal. On the illicit market, dealers did whatever they could to maximize profit.

Things are much better today. A safe, regulated market is better for everyone.

Yet these unregulated and untested sales are undermining the legal market voters set up with I-502; and putting the health of families and children in danger.

To fix this problem, I introduced House Bill 2122, which would close the loophole and give the Liquor and Cannabis Board the enforcement authority to end the sale of these untested, unregulated, and unsafe products. A similar bill, Senate Bill 5983, has been introduced in the Senate.

Even those signed in to testify against this bill said they agreed that this issue is a problem that needs to be solved.

Those testifying for this reform cited the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which received 660 reports of adverse reactions to synthetic delta-8 THC during the first seven months of 2021. Of those, 18 needed hospitalization and 39 were under age 18.

There’s a lot we can do to improve and perfect our state’s legal cannabis market, one of the first in the nation.

This reform will help refine and perfect that market by closing a loophole that’s dangerous; to our legal market, to the health of anyone who buys these products and to our kids.

Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Bothell, represents the 1st District. She is chair of the House Commerce and Gaming Committee.

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