The organic buds of Delta-8 THC look exactly like its illegal cousin, but local law enforcement seems to have turned a blind eye to the sale and possession of the up-and-coming strain.
Delta-8 is a cannabinoid that is legal in Nebraska because it is derived from the hemp plant which became more readily available due to the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, a bill legalizing the sale of any product that contains less than 0.3% of Delta-9 THC.
Jesse Little, store manager of Grateful Green in northeast Lincoln, says Delta-8 THC has several uses and is less potent than its illegal counterpart.
“Delta-8 specifically has been found to work best for general relief and relaxation,” Little said. “Lots of our guests use Delta-8 products specifically for body pain and sleep.”
Despite the number of storefronts selling Delta-8 THC, there’s confusion about what exact protocols law enforcement use when finding the substance during a traffic stop.
“If they’re claiming that it is delta-8 and for some reason the officer is questioning that, I would advise that the officer airs on the side of someone’s liberties and respecting those,” said Sgt. Sara Genoways of the Lincoln Police Department.
Possessing a small amount of marijuana, even the illegal Delta-9, is an infraction, and not something the owner could be incarcerated for.
“Between an ounce and a pound would be a misdemeanor,” Genoways said. “It’s similar to shoplifting.”
Genoways said once the amount of marijuana reaches over a pound, the investigation will switch to a criminal distribution charge.
“The concern is if they have that much Delta-8, are they adhering to any of the rules and regulations that all the other shops around town are adhering to if they are in fact distributing that to other people?” she said.
“What I teach officers here is, first and foremost, is this person safe to operate a motor vehicle?” Genoways explained.
LPD uses the benefit of the doubt when finding Delta-8, but the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office is stricter.
“If they’re exhibiting any impairment, if they’re taking it to alter their mental capacity and if they are, then we can seize the package and its contents,” Drug Recognition Expert Jeremy Schwarz said. “Then, depending on the severity of their impairment, we can cite them for DUI, or we can cite them for using a substance.”
Schwarz said the county sheriff can seize Delta-8 or any substance that is being used to “alter someone’s state of mind” through a state statute that was passed in 2007.
“If people see it out on the roadways, and they’re using it to change their mental state of mind, then we can seize it and we can cite them for it,” Schwarz explains. “We just have to meet the elements of the statute.”
The Nebraska State Patrol’s protocol is like LPD’s in that if it’s clearly packaged, they’ll generally leave Delta-8 alone.
Spokesperson for NSP, Cody Thomas, said there “wouldn’t be any action taken by an officer” if the product is clearly marked, shows the THC percentage and the driver does not appear to be under the influence.
As far as businesses and Delta-8 retailers are concerned, they are protecting customers by ensuring proper labeling of their products.
“The most common thing that we tell our guests is to always keep your package and receipt with you whenever you’re in your vehicle,” Little said. “This provides all of the physical evidence needed to prove that it is hemp derived.”
Despite the difference in policies, Genoways said the primary goal is to ensure that drivers are not going out while under the influence and endangering themselves and others.
“At the end of the day, I cannot let an impaired person keep on driving,” Genoways said.