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Say farewell to weed seltzers, as New York rules make hemp products go up in smoke

 James Hilbert, owner of One Stop Brew Shop in Greece, saw hemp-derived THC seltzers and sodas become his fastest seller. Then, the state of New York stepped in.
Gino Fanelli
James Hilbert, owner of One Stop Brew Shop in Greece, saw hemp-derived THC seltzers and sodas become his fastest seller. Then, the state of New York stepped in.

James Hilbert, the owner of the beer boutique One Stop Brew Shop in Greece, has spent years carving out a niche as a purveyor of a highly curated selection of sour ales, Saisons, and IPAs.

But his fastest growing product for months has been an inebriant of a different variety: THC-infused seltzers and sodas. While Rochester has yet to welcome its first fully licensed cannabis dispensary, the products Hilbert has sold at One Stop, which derive their THC content from hemp, have been legal under a quirk of federal law.

Until now.

On Wednesday, the state Cannabis Control Board voted to pass an emergency regulation that prohibits the sale of these products in New York. Specifically, the measure bans any hemp-derived product that contains more than 1 milligram of THC, the intoxicating chemical in cannabis, per serving.

The THC seltzers at One Stop, for example, range from a modest 3 milligrams to a robust 25 milligrams, the latter of which is designed to be shared or taken in small doses.

In effect, the new regulations are more restrictive on cannabis products than the federal law.

“It’s a hit, and I’m not too happy about it to be honest with you,” Hilbert said. “And I think people should know, regardless of what people think, it flying under the radar, no one knowing about it, and then it passes, is not right.”

Hilbert received a Cannabinoid Hemp Retail License from the state Office of Cannabis Management months ago, which allowed him to sell the products. But, he said, he was given no indication that a ban was coming. In fact, he learned about the ban Wednesday from one of his distributors, who informed him the products were now essentially illegal. That left him in a scramble to sell off as many cans as possible by the weekend, including cans that had just come in the door.

He said the THC seltzers from brands like Cantrip and Ayrloom, a subsidiary of Onondaga County’s 1911 Cider and Beak & Skiff, were the third highest sellers in the store, behind sour ales and IPAs.

Adam Terry, CEO of Massachusetts-based Cantrip, said the company now plans to pull out of New York. Cantrip, which specializes in hemp-derived THC sodas, has its products for sale in 30 states.

He said he had received notice in April that a change in regulations was coming in New York, although what that would look like and how strict it would be was unclear at the time. He said he entered the New York market cautiously.

“I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that things always can change, and you have to kind of make a judgment call where you put resources and how long you think something is going to exist,” Terry said. “I’m still going to lose probably tens of thousands per month in revenue.”

 The cans of THC seltzers and sodas at One Stop feature labeling which clearly denotes they are THC products.
Gino Fanelli
The cans of THC seltzers and sodas at One Stop feature labeling which clearly denotes they are THC products.

In a statement, Chief Financial Officer at Beak & Skiff Mack Hueber said Ayrloom will be focused out of New York licensed dispensaries.

"We intend to follow the new guidance issued by the NY Office of Cannabis Management," the statement reads. "...I firmly believe that cannabis beverages are the future of the cannabis industry. It is the form factor that is socially acceptable and most familiar.

Hemp-derived THC products are federally legal due to a stipulation in the Farm Act of 2018, which legalized any hemp product containing up to .3% THC by dry weight. While that amount in and of itself is non-intoxicating, producers of hemp-derived seltzers and edibles were able to extract that THC content and concentrate it for use in their products. Under the wording of the law, there is nothing forbidding them from doing that.

The Cannabis Control Board justified the change in state regulations by arguing the products were “unsafe” given that they do not go through the regulatory processes of the Office of Cannabis Management. The decision also notes the products skirt the state’s plans to tax cannabis products.

“Intoxicating cannabinoid hemp products frequently mislead consumers to believe the product contains very little, or no THC, when in fact the finished product could contain intoxicating levels of THC,” the measure reads. “This ambiguous labeling puts consumers at risk of overconsumption and accidental ingestion of intoxicating levels of THC or other adverse events.”

The seltzers Hilbert sells are clearly marked with a label that they contain THC. They also warn consumers that the product may impair their ability to drive and should be kept out of reach of minors. Some contain the phone number for the National Poison Control Center hotline.

While overusing THC can make a person ill, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that there has never been a confirmed death from THC overdose alone.

A spokesperson for the State Office of Cannabis Management did not immediately return a message Friday seeking comment.

For Hilbert, the mission now is to sell off as much weed water and sodas as possible. He does not plan on renewing his CBD license, which costs $300 annually.

He said his issue lies with not just the change in law, but how suddenly it came about.

“Take the product out of it, it’s the fact no one knows, we went through the steps, and it’s like, ‘Oh, here you go, now you can’t do anything,’” he said. “It’s like, ‘Excuse me?’”

Copyright 2023 WXXI News. To see more, visit WXXI News.

Gino Fanelli