South Dakota Lawmakers Reject Effort To Ban Flavorings In Medical Marijuana Products

South Dakota Lawmakers Reject Effort To Ban Flavorings In Medical Marijuana Products

The rule would have barred the use of “non-cannabis terpenes”—natural and synthetic aromatic chemicals used to flavor products—in all cannabis products except tinctures

By John Hult, South Dakota Searchlight

South Dakota lawmakers swatted back an attempt to ban flavoring in marijuana edibles and vape products on Tuesday in Pierre.

They also shot down a rule that would have forced cannabis manufacturers to test the rolling papers used to make pre-rolls—also known as joints—in addition to testing the pot inside them.

The rules were part of a 31-page set of proposed adjustments to South Dakota’s medical marijuana program considered by the legislature’s Interim Rules Review Committee.

Voters approved a ballot initiative in 2020 that legalized cannabis for people with qualifying health conditions. As of October 23, there were 12,325 medical marijuana cardholders in South Dakota, according to the Department of Health.

Pot sellers: Flavor ban too broad

Medical Marijuana Program Director Tamarah Lee told lawmakers that all non-cannabis additives represent a danger to patients. Lee pointed to a 2020 white paper from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates cannabis in that state, which described the dangers of artificial or naturally derived, non-cannabis flavors for inhalable vaping products.

The paper pointed to serious side effects for those who vape heated cannabis oil.

“Inhaling this stuff is horrible for the lungs,” Lee said. “We just want to be extra safe.”

The rule would have barred the use of “non-cannabis terpenes”—natural and synthetic aromatic chemicals used to flavor products—in all cannabis products except tinctures, which are liquids ingested by placing drops on the tongue. The rule would have allowed flavoring, provided the terpenes used come from the cannabis plants.

Cannabis industry representatives cried foul, noting that terpenes are widely used in a host of medicines and other products consumed on a daily basis by adults and children who’ve never used cannabis.

Flavored cough medicine, vitamins, beverages and other products use many of the same compounds used to flavor pot gummies and other edibles, according to Tyler Koehne of manufacturer KTTK LLC in Rapid City.

“We eat flavored items every day,” Koehne said.

Even flavors as common as sugar or coconut oil would be barred under the rules, Koehne said. Koehne and other cannabis industry representatives acknowledged the dangers of untested additives in vape products, but said barring flavors for everything but tinctures amounts to “killing an entire category of products” used by people who don’t like the flavor of marijuana and don’t want to smoke it.

“If Oregon outlawed it in inhalables, why are we doing it for all products?” Koehne said.

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Pre-roll testing rule nixed

The other disputed rule would have forced manufacturers to test the papers used in pre-rolls, with Lee saying that some papers pose health risks.

The current rule requiring cannabis products to be tested in their “final form” had an exemption for pre-rolls, essentially allowing manufacturers to test the pot before rolling it into a joint.

Rep. Jean Hunhoff (R-Yankton) wanted to know if the papers used for cannabis are similar to those used for roll-your-own cigarettes. Koehne told her that there are a wide variety of papers available, and that he’d rather vet them and choose tested ones than to do the testing himself.

Hunhoff put the same question to Lee: Are pot papers the same as cigarette papers?

“I have to tell you, I don’t use it either, so I don’t know 100 percent” said Lee, in a nod to Hunhoff’s professed lack of personal experience with cannabis products, flavors and paper types. “My understanding is it is different, but I won’t swear to that.”

Sen. Jim Mehlhaff (R-Pierre) moved to strike the flavoring and pre-roll testing rule changes, saying he was swayed by the arguments of the cannabis industry. On the question of pre-rolls, he said it “does seem somewhat inefficient” to require the testing of papers and pot separately.

On the flavoring issue, he said the exemption from the no-flavors rule for tinctures doesn’t square with the Health Department’s concerns about the safety of flavors more broadly.

“It seems like we have a contradiction where it seems they’re allowed to be ingested in these tinctures, but not in other edible products,” Mehlhaff said.

The committee voted in favor of striking those two provisions, then agreed to pass the remaining rules.

This story was first published by the South Dakota Searchlight.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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