A coalition of hemp businesses won a preliminary injunction against the state Thursday after a judge paused Maryland’s ban on selling hemp and cannabinoid products that exceed the mandated percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, by businesses without a state license.

Maryland’s 2023 cannabis law allowed adult use of recreational cannabis and set up licensing and taxation rules for sales beginning July 1. The law also barred unlicensed businesses from selling hemp and cannabinoid products with THC — a chemical component of cannabis that causes intoxication — above a certain potency.

The ban covers products with 0.5 milligrams of THC per serving or 2.5 milligrams of THC per package. Newer THC variants, such as delta-8 and delta-9 THC, fall under the ban.

The preliminary ruling allows sales to proceed until after a trial court decision. No court date has yet been set.

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Washington County Circuit Court Judge Brett R. Wilson said the measure would “irreparably harm” the plaintiffs, who have hemp and cannabinoid interests, by forcing them to lose customers or close up shop. Wilson said his order “is not contrary to the public interest.”

“We’re happy that, for now, we’re back in business,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Nevin Young said.

Young said the case defends his clients’ fundamental liberties and deconstructs the state’s controlling interest in the cannabis industry.

“This is really about the state wanting sole control — through a very limited number of retailers — of the market for all THC products,” Young said.

Legislative leaders asserted confidence the history-making law passed in the 2023 General Assembly would hold up to judicial scrutiny.

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“We are disappointed in the Washington County Circuit Court’s initial order regarding Maryland’s landmark recreational adult-use cannabis legislation,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson said in a joint statement. “We remain confident that the law is legal.”

Will Tilburg, acting director of the Maryland Cannabis Administration, said his agency “was disappointed to learn of the preliminary decision in Washington County Circuit Court allowing for the continued sale of unregulated, untested, and intoxicating hemp-derived products.”

Young said the state’s arguments that his clients’ products are untested and unregulated are untrue talking points. He said the THC in his clients’ products are less intoxicating than products sold in licensed dispensaries, and that his clients’ products are tested by federally certified labs.

“They brought products to the hearing with them that are tested in independent laboratories that actually exceed the standards that the state of Maryland requires for the products sold in the state,” Young said.

“They have basically been shut out. Not because their products are dangerous, but because their products are undesired,” he also said.

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The Maryland Hemp Coalition filed the civil suit in July against Gov. Wes Moore, the Maryland Cannabis Administration and the Maryland Alcohol, Tobacco, and Cannabis Commission months after lawmakers capped the limit on THC concentrations in hemp-derived products. The plaintiffs, who have hemp and cannabinoid business interests, said the law wrongfully mandated them to either get a cannabis business license, which is subject to eligibility requirements; stop selling products they have sold for years; or close their businesses.

Cannabinoids include delta-9 THC, responsible for the well-known cannabis high, CBD, a nonintoxicating chemical component of cannabis, as well as the more recently popular delta-8 THC and delta-10 THC, among others.

These products have been sold unregulated in the state for years alongside the state’s regulated medical cannabis market. But that all changed on July 1 once cannabis legalization went into effect.

Hemp retailer and coalition leader Nicholas Patrick closed two of his Embrace CBD Wellness Center locations on July 1 after realizing about 70% of his revenue came from products banned by the state law, and rebranded a third location, making it a smoke shop. He was about to file bankruptcy before the judge’s order came through on Thursday, and now he’s hoping to someday rebuild.

“We’re very pleased with the judge’s ruling,” Patrick said. “We believe there’s room to create common-sense regulations. That’s all we’ve ever wanted.”

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Patrick has for two years urged lawmakers to regulate the hemp industry, but legislators in the General Assembly deflected his attempts, he said.

The state has filed a motion to dismiss the case and both sides have a right to immediately appeal the injunction, Young explained. The coalition will not seek appeal to enjoin the state’s licensing plans.