How One Weed Company Is Skirting Marijuana Rules to Sell THC Products in All 50 States
Last month, Wisconsin-based company LiftedMade launched a new kind of weed product: a THC-infused flavor-popping crystal candy, called Urb Rocks. Like most other THC products, it will get you high. Unlike other products, though, the THC in Urb Rocks is sourced from hemp, which means it’s technically legal for sale in most states.
LiftedMade is selling Urb Rocks, along with other hemp and hemp-derived products, online for sale nationally. CEO Nick Warrender says the company wants to make cannabis products accessible to consumers who don’t have local access to legal weed. And, he says, “Our goal is also to make it more affordable for people that might not be able to afford to use cannabis on a daily basis.” At $5.99 for 15 mg of THC, the price is well below what marijuana-derived THC costs in most legal states.
The difference between cannabinoids derived from hemp or marijuana is a technicality – but it could have serious legal ramifications. Hemp and marijuana are classified botanically as the same plant, Cannabis sativa; the distinction between the two under U.S. law is in the amount of the cannabinoid known as THC, which is the plant’s psychoactive component. Under the Farm Bill passed by Congress in December of 2018, legal hemp contains 0.3 percent or less THC, while marijuana contains more than .3 percent THC. Hemp won’t get you stoned, or so the thinking goes.
When the Farm Bill legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products under federal law, farmers and manufacturers mostly focused on extracting cannabidiol, or CBD, from hemp, expecting to rake in the profits. However, the surge of interest in hemp led to a glut of hemp-sourced CBD production, accompanied by a drop in price. Partly due to the abundance of cheap hemp, enterprising cannabis businesses found a cost-effective method of producing a lesser-known cannabinoid called Delta-8-THC from hemp-sourced CBD. Delta-8, a less-potent cousin of Delta-9-THC, or “regular” THC, offers a mild, functional high, according to many consumers.
The quasi-legal loophole of extracting Delta-8-THC from hemp gave rise to an entire industry of Delta-8 products sold around the country by companies like LiftedMade, which offers hemp-derived Delta-8 gummies, chocolate, flower, concentrates, and vape cartridges for sale online. “A huge expectation of people with CBD was feeling something, and Delta-8 provides that,” Warrender told Rolling Stone earlier this year. (Earlier this month, the FDA and CDC both issued warnings about potential negative health effects of Delta-8 products.)
Warrender is confident that the company has met the requirements to sell hemp-derived THC legally across the country. “Urb Rocks are a 6-gram product, so you’re talking 6,000 milligrams of total dry weight,” Warrender says. “Fifteen milligrams of THC in 6,000 milligrams of product comes out to 0.25 percent.”
So, since each packet of Urb Rocks contains less than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis, it complies with the provisions laid out in the Farm Bill. Warrender also points out that since Urb Rocks dissolve in the mouth, they’re a sublingual, not an edible, and therefore potentially less subject to FDA scrutiny. “We wanted to go towards the sublingual route, which seems to be more accepted,” he says.
LiftedMade seems to have found a way around federal marijuana laws with its hemp-sourced Delta-9-THC product – for the time being, at least. However, there will be plenty of developments around hemp-sourced cannabinoids to follow as they receive increasing attention from law enforcement and regulators across the country. For example, Washington State regulators recently banned the processing of CBD into Delta-9-THC, and Delta-8-THC has been prohibited or restricted in 18 states.
Andrew DeAngelo, a strategic advisor and consultant to the cannabis industry, says the feds will regulate all hemp-sourced cannabinoids at some point. “It just takes a long time for the FDA to figure out what to do when these things happen,” he says. “I don’t know how they’ll regulate it. Nobody can predict what the federal government’s going to do. My experience is that the spirit of the Farm Bill is not to extract THC from [hemp].”
Andrea Golan, a regulatory compliance attorney for hemp and cannabis companies, says that while she applauds the creativity of innovative consumption methods like Urb Rocks, there may be a potential issue with some state laws. She says that including an age gate for e-commerce to ensure that minors aren’t purchasing products online would be wise. (LiftedMade doesn’t currently have an age gate in place.) As far as federal regulation goes, Golan says the FDA states that you can’t sell a food or dietary supplement containing THC or CBD because those cannabinoids are active ingredients in FDA-approved drugs. However, the FDA has been chiefly focusing on ‘disease claims,’ Golan says: “The way the agency has been regulating is really when companies make egregious claims like ‘this product cures epilepsy, or cancer, or Alzheimer’s.'”
Urb Rocks make no such assertions – the strawberry-lemonade and ‘blue razz’ flavored crystals are intended for recreational use by consumers who enjoy the feeling of a THC buzz. An examination of a certificate of the laboratory analysis, or COA, shows a 0.3 percent THC threshold in Urb Rocks. The lab that produced the COA for Urb Rocks confirmed the results to Rolling Stone, noting they only tested for cannabinoid potency; there were no results for terpenes, solvents, or heavy metals listed. Golan explains that some states may only require cannabinoid testing, but many states also mandate testing for pesticides and require that COAs be made accessible to consumers. (LiftedMade links to its product COAs on its website.)
Nick Jikomes, director of science and innovation for the cannabis platform Leafly, is intrigued by the science behind Urb Rocks. “I like the sublingual approach – putting something under the tongue will be a faster onset than a traditional edible,” he says. As far as the legality of the product goes, Jikomes says, “If I were running the business, I’d double and triple check with lawyers, because at the end of the day, a lot of this stuff is up for interpretation – but it’s interesting to start with hemp and get Delta-9.”
LiftedMade plans to release more hemp-derived Delta-9-THC products like energy shots and gummies in a new partnership with a company called Savage Enterprises. The whole enterprise is under the umbrella of the newly-minted LFTD Partners, Inc., which invests in companies that manufacture hemp-derived cannabinoids as well as plant-sourced kratom and kava products. Warrender is confident that Urb Rocks will have a massive impact on the hemp and cannabis industry. “It’s imperative to stay innovative if we want to keep growing,” he says. “And we think that this product could take the cake on anything that’s been launched until now. We look forward to seeing how that reflects on the financial side.”