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May 1, 2024

CT House votes to set standards on THC products

ERICA E. PHILLIPS / CT MIRROR THC-infused beverages are available at Stew Leonard's Wine & Spirits in Newington.

Three years after the legalization of recreational marijuana in Connecticut, the state is moving to curb the proliferation of unregulated cannabis and hemp products now being sold in convenience stories, vape shops and gas stations.

The House voted 130-16 Tuesday night for House Bill 5150, a bipartisan measure intended to set clear rules for THC-infused beverages and other intoxicating products made from hemp and sold under a loophole in federal law.

“We can’t ban them, but we can regulate the hell out of them,” said Rep. Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden, co-chair of the General Law Committee. “We say, OK, those products need to be manufactured in accordance with our standards. They need to be labeled in accordance with our standards they have to be to have disclosures in accordance with our standards.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.

A federal farm bill passed in 2018 removed hemp and cannabis-derived products containing THC levels of 0.3% or less from the federal definition of marijuana. The result was a flood of hemp-derived CBD products onto the consumer market.

While a THC level of 1% is generally necessary for an intoxicating effect, the products made out of state for sale in Connecticut undergo none of the rigorous testing and THC labeling required of cannabis sold in state-licensed dispensaries.

“We need to make sure that the rules are being followed, that there’s not a product out there that is unregulated, that is being sold to minors, that is being sold in convenience stores, that is outside of the strict structures that we created,” D’Agostino said.

The bill would define any sale of a cannabis product outside Connecticut’s regulatory structure as a violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, easing the ability of the attorney general and Department of Consumer Protection to take such products off the market.

“And we add provisions that allow towns to now go to court and seek to shutter the doors of these vape shops that are selling cannabis or other stores that are selling illegal cannabis, and the towns can get a piece of the revenue and fines that can be levied with respect to that enforcement,” D’Agostino said. “If you’re a town that’s approved legal cannabis, the last thing you want is next door a vape shop that’s selling a competing illegal product.”

The bill also sets labelling and other standards for THC-infused beverages and updates the rules for the licensing of cultivators of marijuana.

Seltzer producers, retailers and their customers opposed the original version of the bill, which would have limited the products to 0.5 milligrams of THC per serving. An amendment raised the limit to one milligram per serving, allowing sales in package stores and cannabis dispensaries. 

D’Agostino said there will be a continual evolution of the cannabis marketplace, products and regulations.

“The liquor laws have been evolving over time for decades since Prohibition ended. We’re three years into this process,” D’Agostino said. “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: We’re going to keep coming back and back in this chamber with respect to our cannabis laws and how they evolve and how we respond to that marketplace and make sure we remain in control of it.”

Rep. Dave Rutigliano of Trumbull, the ranking Republican on General Law, was among the many Republicans who opposed the legalization of cannabis but voted for the bill.

“It’s already legal. We can’t make it unlegal. So what we’ve decided to do is try to regulate it in a way that makes a safer environment for everyone,” Rutigliano said. “Our goal this year, as it was last year, is to get THC products, intoxicating products out of our supermarkets, convenience stores and gas stations, to put it in a place where it’s regulated, where it’s taxed and controlled.”

The House and Senate met late into Tuesday evening, picking up the pace of work in the face of the constitutional adjournment deadline of May 8.

The House also unanimously passed House Bill 5003, a measure intended to improve nutrition for children by various means, including promoting participation in the federally funded Women, Infants and Children program, better known as WIC.

“Connecticut’s participation in the WIC program is really low compared to the rest of the nation, about 46%,” said Rep. Jaime Foster, D-Ellington, a lead sponsor of the bill with Rep. Kathy Kennedy, R-Milford.

Foster said the bill will encourage state agencies to step up efforts to market WIC to people with income levels that qualify them for Medicaid and other programs.

“We’re enhancing an existing program. And we recognize that after COVID people just weren’t taking advantage of something that was there,” Kennedy said.

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