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State Senator Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla, said he supports the bill’s attempt to boost Georgia’s fledgling hemp-growing industry. The cannabis plant is primarily used to make CBD oil, a popular product used for anxiety and insomnia that may contain traces of THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high.

“We’ve been trying to find a way to clarify the law as best we can while it’s within the federal limits of less than 0.3% THC,” said Harper, a candidate for agriculture commissioner. “We have tried to bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats that is so often seen in the national media.”

His Democratic counterpart on the bill, Sen. Kim Jackson, said she was hoping for a bipartisan agreement on a bill that boosts agriculture, one of Georgia’s key industries.

Prosecutors in Gwinnett County have threatened to treat Delta-8 as an illegal substance, but a judge issued a restraining order last week.

“When we became aware that Delta-8 could be prosecuted, we felt it was important to make it clear that Delta-8 is not illegal,” said Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat. “I’m not against a full hearing on this. I objected to the idea of ​​killing the entire bill.”

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State Senator Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla who is now running for commissioner of agriculture, said he was trying to boost Georgia’s fledgling hemp-growing industry when he supported a bill that would have authorized the sale of a hemp derivative called Delta-8 THC to give recreational users a high. Retailers sell the compound, which isn’t as potent as marijuana, through a federal hemp law that doesn’t specifically ban it. (ALYSSA POINTER / [email protected])

State Senator Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla who is now running for commissioner of agriculture, said he was trying to boost Georgia's fledgling hemp-growing industry when he supported a bill that would have authorized the sale of a hemp derivative called Delta-8 THC to give recreational users a high.  Retailers sell the compound, which isn't as potent as marijuana, through a federal hemp law that doesn't specifically ban it.  (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)Caption arrowcaption

State Senator Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla who is now running for commissioner of agriculture, said he was trying to boost Georgia’s fledgling hemp-growing industry when he supported a bill that would have authorized the sale of a hemp derivative called Delta-8 THC to give recreational users a high. Retailers sell the compound, which isn’t as potent as marijuana, through a federal hemp law that doesn’t specifically ban it. (ALYSSA POINTER / [email protected])

Hemp cultivation began in Georgia two years ago as a result of a state law following the 2018 Farm Bill, a federal law that legalized hemp cultivation and distribution while maintaining a ban on traditional marijuana, Delta-9 THC.

Since delta-8 THC, which is not as potent as marijuana and has a slightly different chemical structure, was not mentioned in the Farm Bill, companies started to manufacture and sell it.

At Georgia Hemp Co., which has three stores in the Atlanta area, almost all of its Delta-8 products are sourced out of state rather than from Georgia farmers, said co-owner Joe Salome.

“Some people like me move on without waiting” on a new Georgia cannabis law, Salome said. “We need to give farmers the opportunity, not limit it, give them the opportunity to grow a product that people want.”

Georgia’s hemp legislation, Senate Bill 481, began as a proposal to allow hemp cultivation by Georgians who are currently convicted of a felony. The bill would have allowed licenses to grow hemp to be issued to individuals so long as they have not been convicted of a felony related to a state-controlled substance in the past 10 years.

The Legislature approved the Senate Agriculture Committee, and then Harper introduced a new version of the measure in the Senate Rules Committee that included a seemingly innocuous line that would have given the green light to legalize Delta-8:

“Hemp products are not considered controlled substances due to the presence of hemp or hemp-derived cannabinoids,” the replacement law states.

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State Senator Kim Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat, said she supports legislation that would have allowed the sale of the cannabis product Delta-8 THC in response to threats from Gwinnett County prosecutors to treat it as an illegal substance. “We felt it was important to make it clear that Delta-8 is not illegal,” Jackson said. (Hyosub Shin / [email protected])

Photo credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

State Senator Kim Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat, said she supports legislation that would have allowed the sale of the cannabis product Delta-8 THC in response to threats from Gwinnett County prosecutors to treat it as an illegal substance.

Photo credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Caption arrowcaption

State Senator Kim Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat, said she supports legislation that would have allowed the sale of the cannabis product Delta-8 THC in response to threats from Gwinnett County prosecutors to treat it as an illegal substance. “We felt it was important to make it clear that Delta-8 is not illegal,” Jackson said. (Hyosub Shin / [email protected])

Photo credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Photo credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

When the measure came up for debate in the Senate on March 9, Agriculture Chairman Larry Walker said he voted in favor of it in the Rules Committee “and didn’t understand everything that was in the bill.”

“It’s on me. I missed it,” said Walker, a Republican from Perry.

Then the Senate voted 28-20 along party lines to resubmit the bill to Walker’s committee, likely ending its chances of passing it this year.

Lawmakers can study and then reconsider the issue ahead of next year’s legislature, said Harper, who will be out of the Senate in 2023. Harper has no opponent in the Republican primary for commissioner of agriculture on May 24. Three Democrats and one Libertarian are in the running again this year.