Delta-8: The legal weed you’ve never heard of

Delta-8: The legal weed you’ve never heard of

Nicole Burnette in the Queen Hemp Company grow room. Photos: Emma Way/Axios

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To peek inside Nicole Burnette’s grow room, I had to first find her business’ unmarked brick building in south Charlotte and then put on a Tyvek protective suit.

The east Charlotte native and co-owner of Queen Hemp Company has been growing everything from microgreens to garlic for more than two decades. But the hemp-derived legal weed product known as Delta-8 she’s growing now is more popular than anything else she’s ever grown, and she wants to protect her goods.

Why it matters: The demand for Burnette’s Delta-8 edibles is “a veiled demand for legalization” of marijuana in general, she tells me.

  • Recent polling backs that up: 54% of N.C. residents polled by Elon University say they support the legalization of recreational marijuana.
  • 73% support the legalization of medical marijuana.
  • And, FWIW, 98% of Axios Charlotte readers support legal medical marijuana, according to our unscientific poll in November.

The state of play: Cannabis could be legalized through two possible routes: the state legislature or U.S. Congress.

  • In North Carolina, there are two bills on the docket. One aims to legalize marijuana for medical purposes; the other is full legalization. The state could also decide to raise the legal limit of THC allowed in products from 0.3%.
  • Federally, legislation to decriminalize marijuana nationally is expected to make its way to Congress soon, Axios’ Alayna Treene reports.

[Go deeper: Most states now have legal medical marijuana, but N.C. lags behind]

weed plants - the mothers

Queen Hemp Company’s “mother” hemp plants. All other plants are cloned from these mature plants for quality control.

Delta-8, on the other hand, is already legal here.

Because it’s derived from hemp, it’s covered under the state’s Farm Act, which remains in its “pilot” stage through the end of the year.

The high: Delta-8 THC is a close cousin to Delta-9 THC, the psychoactive compound found in typical marijuana. So yes, Delta-8 gets you high, but it’s a milder high, Burnette says. Think of it like the low ABV alcohol of weed.

  • The catch: Because Delta-8 products, like Queen Hemp Company’s gummies, contain THC, they’ll likely show up on drug tests despite its legal status. Just an FYI.

Burnette and her business partner Gail Syfert released the gummies three months ago to complement their other hemp products like chocolate, skincare and, most recently, a line of spices.

Demand has been so strong for their hemp products, they’ve outgrown their modest facility in south Charlotte and will soon move into a new 20,000-square-foot space.

Background: Throughout Burnette’s career in growing, her business has evolved along with her passions and current wellness trends.

  • She pivoted from hydroponic produce to hemp after the passing of Farm Bill. Her indoor hemp farm was the first licensed facility in Mecklenburg County in 2018.
  • Now, she’s prepared to pivot again if marijuana is legalized.

What’s next: “It’s probably going to go medical first, but you don’t ever know. I mean, look at what Virginia is doing,” Burnette says.

Ah yes, our neighbor to the north. Starting July 1, recreational marijuana is legal there, and that fact could have a major effect on what happens here.

  • After New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana in November, New York followed a few months later.

Why now: There are two key reasons supporters cite for legalization.

  1. Equity. In North Carolina, local municipalities have discretion over fines and incarceration for marijuana violations, meaning punishment varies from person to person. An Observer investigation in 2016 found that Black Charlotteans are more likely to be arrested than white Charlotteans, though consumption is generally the same.
  2. Revenue. Proponents say legal pot could boost the state economy post-pandemic with tax revenue and jobs. U.S. cannabis sales hit a record high of $17.5 million last year as more states legalized the drug.

The other side: Opponents cite a lack of research on the drug’s effects and potential risk factors. On top of that, the state actually has a budget surplus coming out of the pandemic.

What to watch: Burnette says legalization is more bipartisan than it may appear from our state legislature.

  • During the Republican National Convention this past summer, Burnette says the host committee came by her facility to learn more.
  • She’s also hosted hemp dinners for mayor Vi Lyles and Charlotte’s city council.

There are hurdles beyond just passing the bill, too. It’s the logistics of it all — from testing to inspections to licensing.

But, Syfert tells me, “It’s not like they’re creating the wheel. The wheel’s been created.”

weed plant

Hemp plants are watered hydroponically, bathed in LED lights and nourished with rock music — Burnette’s secret ingredient.

Where to find Delta-8:

Queen Hemp Company sells Delta-8 gummies direct to consumer from their website. It costs $10.99 for two gummies or $27.99 for 10. For first-timers, Burnette recommends starting with half a gummy and waiting 90 minutes.

  • They’re also a regular vendor at Atherton Mill’s market pop-ups, among other local farmers’ markets.

Retailers: Most CBD shops carry Delta 8 products from edibles to vape cartridges, including Charlotte CBD in Plaza Midwood and Blue Flowers in SouthPark. [Full guide: Where to buy CBD products in Charlotte]

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