Hemp industry sues state to block rules against selling their products

A coalition of hemp growers and manufacturers has sued the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, claiming that new limits on intoxicating hemp products are unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, by the Alaska Industrial Hemp Association and four businesses, was filed Nov. 2 in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

Attorney Christopher Hoke, representing the plaintiffs, said the rules mean that virtually every hemp-derived product made in the state and for sale in Alaska — drinks, gummies, cookies and more — will become illegal.

“We’re just harming our own here,” he said.

The lawsuit requests a temporary restraining order to keep the ban from coming into effect while the lawsuit proceeds.

The lawsuit stems from a regulation approved in October by the lieutenant governor at the request of DNR.

The regulation, which took effect Nov. 3, states in part that DNR may not approve “an industrial hemp product that contains delta-9-THC.”

Alaska’s marijuana industry is tightly regulated, with limits on who may buy products that contain THC — the leading psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — and how much THC those products may contain. Until Nov. 3, those limits largely didn’t exist in Alaska for products that contain delta-9-THC derived from hemp, not marijuana. In 2018, Congress passed — and then-President Donald Trump signed — a farm bill that said a hemp product could contain no more than 0.3% delta-9-THC by weight.

Some hemp manufacturers have been selling foods and beverages with delta-9. Those products can be sold without an age limit and at businesses that aren’t licensed to sell marijuana, making them widely available.

Congress hasn’t provided additional guidance on the law, so several states have jumped into the issue, passing laws or writing regulations to clarify their stance.

Alaska’s advisory task force on marijuana issues, commissioned by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, made the delta-9 issue a top priority, and the state’s marijuana trade group backed off a push for legislation after state agriculture officials said they would address it through regulation.

In October, state officials said the new restriction on hemp products would prevent negative health consequences for young Alaskans.

Members of the hemp industry fired back, saying that their products are no different than those sold by the legal marijuana industry, and they accused officials of improperly collaborating with the marijuana industry to benefit that sector.

Dan Ferguson, owner of a major Anchorage hemp business, told KTUU-TV in Anchorage that the new regulation is “effectively a kill shot from the cannabis industry to the hemp industry.”

He and other hemp businesses say they’ve now been left with millions of dollars in products that they cannot legally sell in Alaska.

“It seems like they want to outright prohibit any hemp products while they allow the marijuana-producing companies to produce products that are exactly the same,” Hoke said.

“All hemp is federally lawful to possess, and hemp that fits the federal definition may not be interfered with as it flows through interstate commerce,” the complaint said.

No schedule has yet been set for written arguments on the request for a restraining order to block the regulations.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. Alaskabeacon.com.


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