DEA Contends that Hemp-derived THC-O is Controlled Substance

The Federal Docket

April 2, 2023

Earlier this year, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued an opinion contending that delta-8-THC-O and delta-9-THC-O (as distinguished from delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC) are illegal controlled substances. THC-O is another cannabinoid that can be derived from hemp and marijuana, like Delta-8-THC and Delta-9-THC, though it does not occur naturally in the plants. It must be synthesized in a lab.

Based on that distinction, the fact that it is not naturally occurring and must be manufactured, the DEA contends they are illegal. THC-O is allegedly much more potent than ordinary marijuana or Delta-8 and 9 products. The DEA does not seem to contend that non-THC-O versions of Delta-8-THC are illegal. In fact, the agency has previously conceded the legality of hemp-derived Delta-8-THC, Delta-10-THC, and other cannabinoids on multiple occasions.

The DEA’s position reflects that, going forward, the DEA will likely scrutinize and oppose any hemp product that contains substances that do not naturally occur in hemp plants, even if the manufacturing process involves minimal intervention. There is a grey area between “extraction” and “synthesisation,” however, and there will almost certainly be litigation seeking to clarify where the DEA draws the line.

At the same time, other federal agencies continue recognizing the economic benefits of the growing hemp industry, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency is now offering coverage to hemp products.

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Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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