The implications of a recent federal judge ruling have people in the industry asking: Did a federal judge just legalize help-derived cannabinoids like delta-8 THC, HHC, THCP, and THCa flower? In a nutshell, a judge in Arkansas ruled that the 2018 Farm Bill takes legal precedence over an Arkansas state ban on hemp-derived cannabinoids, which could lay out a blueprint for future legal actions in other states.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson ruled to block the enforcement of Act 629 of 2023, which was passed in Arkansas in the 2023 legislative session and banned sales and production of items containing delta-8, delta-9, and delta-10 THC in the state. The judge found the hemp product ban to be conflicting and arbitrary. 

Act 629 was approved in the 2023 regular session of the state’s General Assembly, and it seeks to ban the production and sale of products containing delta-8, delta-9 and delta-10 as well as other THC isomers derived from hemp. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed Act 629 earlier this year, which bans “poorly regulated products” derived from hemp.

For the time being, hemp sellers in the state are celebrating it as a win. Award-winning attorney Rod Knight believes it could have significant implications for hemp laws in every state, not just Arkansas.

Four Plaintiffs in Arkansas Sue

Four businesses—Bio Gen LLC, Drippers Vape Shop LLC, The Cigarette Store LLC, and Sky Marketing Corp—filed a lawsuit  earlier this month. The companies spoke from several points of the hemp industry chain: a manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, and retailer. 

Gov. Huckabee Sanders, Attorney General Tim Griffin, Dept. of Finance and Administration, Tobacco Control Board, Dept. Agriculture, State Plant Board, as well as the prosecuting attorneys of the state’s 28 judicial circuits, are all named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Lawyers representing those businesses argued that the law was unconstitutionally vague and that it was preempted by the 2018 Farm Bill. It appears that their argument holds up.

“Plaintiffs have been, and will be, harmed by Act 629,” the complaint reads, according to a report from the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “as they are unable to transport in and through Arkansas hemp-derived cannabinoid products that have been declared legal under federal law.”

Senate Bill 358 was approved and enacted on April 11 as Act 629, and it criminalized all hemp-derived products “produced as a result of a synthetic chemical process” and “[a]ny other psychoactive substance derived therein.” 

But the plaintiffs argue that the Act is superseded by the 2018 Farm Bill and also that its provisions are unconstitutionally vague and therefore void. The Court agreed and entered an injunction that blocks the enforcement of the Act. 

Abtin Mehdizadegan, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said that his clients tried to avoid legal action before the ban was signed into law.

“Our suit asks the federal court in the Eastern District of Arkansas to enjoin the entirety of Act 629 because it unconstitutionally narrowed the definition of hemp-derived products in violation of the 2018 Farm Bill and impermissibly restricted the transportation and shipment of these products,” Mehdizadegan wrote. “Before the bill was signed into law, we had lengthy dialogues with the defendants during the 2023 legislative session as the bill was making its way through the legislative process.” 

Preempted by 2018 Farm Bill

In its ruling, the Court made three specific conclusions: that the Act is preempted by federal law under the principle of “conflict preemption”, that the Act is preempted by federal law under the principle of “express preemption”, and third, that the Act is unconstitutionally vague and thus void. 

Attorney Rod Knight explained that the Court’s first two findings are based on the legal doctrine of preemption. As the court states, “the federal preemption doctrine stems from the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which states that laws of the United States made under the Constitution are the supreme law of the land. State laws that interfere with, or are contrary to the laws of congress, made in pursuance of the constitution are invalid or preempted.” 

There are several types of preemption, and regarding this case, the Court found that two are applicable: “conflict preemption” and “express preemption”. Although similar in their effect, they are based on different premises. The court’s third finding is based on a separate legal doctrine referred to as “void for vagueness” under the due process clause of the Constitution.

Last May, Arkansas became the latest state with a legal cannabis industry to regulate or ban intoxicating hemp-derived products, and they’ve been on shelves since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production nationwide. Arkansas adopted the 2018 Farm Bill locally through the Industrial Hemp Act 565.

Local news agency KTHV reports that the case is set to go to trial on Aug. 27, 2024.

Congress is set to review the Farm Bill again this year, and there’s a possibility that federal lawmakers could address the unintended rise of hemp-derived cannabinoids, particularly intoxicating ones.

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