House Speaker Matt Ritter said he was surprised hearing Rep. Mike D'Agostino explain the availability of gummies with high levels of THC outside the state's regulated cannabis industry. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

Connecticut moved Tuesday towards banning synthetic marijuana and limiting the sale of sleep aids and other consumables containing THC that are being sold outside the state’s tightly regulated medical and recreational cannabis industry.

The House of Representatives voted 148-1 for a bill that represents the first in what lawmakers expect will be an annual exercise in revising Connecticut’s rules governing the production and sale of cannabis products.

“This is a set of laws that we were going to be looking at and updating every year,” said Rep. Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden, co-chair of the General Law Committee. “It’s an evolving market. It’s an evolving regulatory scheme.”

House Bill 6699 now goes to expected passage in the Senate, and D’Agostino said Gov. Ned Lamont is prepared to sign the bill.

“I’m glad to see that this is both sides of the aisle, plus the governor’s office, all agreeing that we should limit the amount of THC that should be in one container,” said Rep. Dave Rutigliano, the ranking House Republican on General Law.

Republicans opposed the legalization of recreational cannabis, but they were willing to work with Democrats on regulations, he said.

In a press conference with House Democratic leaders, D’Agostino displayed a large canister of oversized gummies containing tetrahydrocannabinol, the mood-altering substance in marijuana known as THC, that he purchased at a CBD, or cannabidiol, product store.

Unlike the state’s cannabis dispensaries, there is no age requirement for purchase or limit on the quantity, and therefore total THC content, in any single package of CBD gummies derived from hemp, D’Agostino said. The minimum age for dispensary customers is 21.

“These are gummies that anyone can purchase right now in the state of Connecticut  — no age limit — that are not individually packaged,” D’Agostino said. “And one of these has almost double the milligrams of THC that you can buy in our regulated stores.”

Connecticut limits THC to five milligrams per serving and 100 milligrams per package, he said.

The limit is a child-safety provision. D’Agostino said research shows that when children get access to cannabis gummies, they tend to consume the contents of the package.

“What we are saying is, ‘Okay, CBD stores, if you want to sell products that have got some level of THC in them, we’re going to restrict that to one milligram per serving and five milligrams total per package for edibles.’ There are different limits for THC-based CBD products that are lotions and tinctures and things like that,” D’Agostino said.

D’Agostino said the soon-to-be-banned CBD products are legal to sell due to a conflict in state and federal laws and the general inconsistency in how federal law defines CBD and measures THC. When derived from hemp, it is legal; from marijuana, it is not.

“I want to be fair here. These people selling these products are not criminals. These are legal products right now,” D’Agostino said. “It’s a problem where we’ve got this conflict between federal law and a regulated marketplace that we’ve established in Connecticut.”

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, even if legally sold in Connecticut and other states. Hemp was removed from the list of controlled substances by the Farm Bill of 2018, legalizing its cultivation and sale.

As a physician wrote in a Harvard Health article, “In essence, this means that CBD is legal if it comes from hemp, but not if it comes from cannabis (marijuana) — even though it is the exact same molecule.”

CBD is an active ingredient of marijuana, but it does not produce the high that comes from THC. 

The sole “no” vote was cast by Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Granby, who complained it penalized Connecticut farmers of legal hemp.

Legal hemp, often called a cousin of marijuana, can have a THC concentration of no more than 0.3% as measured by what federal law defines as a “dry weight basis.”

“The problem with that is it’s a door you can drive a truck through,” D’Agostino said of the dry-weight measurement, as opposed to Connecticut’s requirement for disclosing THC content by milligrams. 

D’Agostino drew a distinction between the products sold in CBD stores, some of which were produced in Connecticut from legal hemp, and the foods with a so-called synthetic THC that mimic popular snack and candy brands, such as Fritos and Skittles.

Synthetic marijuana contains delta-8 and delta-9 THC, which actually is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in hemp and marijuana plants. Its sale would be banned under the bill passed Tuesday

“There are a number of products coming in where we don’t frankly know where they’re made. And those products not only exceed the THC limits, but from a packaging and labeling perspective, they completely violate our laws” by appealing to children, he said.

In February, Attorney General William Tong sued five retailers for selling delta-8 THC products using popular brands, which he alleged is an unfair trade practice.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.