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‘Frankenstein-like chemical product’: Spread of hemp concoctions worries lawmakers

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‘Frankenstein-like chemical product’: Spread of hemp concoctions worries lawmakers


BOSTON ― The products have been appearing on the shelves of convenience stores, in gas station mini-marts and bodegas. Even liquor stores and restaurants seem to be selling hemp-infused seltzers, energy drinks, tinctures, chocolate bars, gummies and sugary treats masquerading as brand-name candies.

The often-intoxicating concoctions are smokable, vape-able, drinkable and edible: however they are not sold legally in Massachusetts.

Two legislative committees, the joint committees on agriculture and cannabis policy, met Tuesday, summoning public health officials, state agricultural experts and members of the Cannabis Control Commission to discuss the proliferation of the hemp products. They discussed changes in federal law that triggered the growth in the products, the lack of manufacturing and marketing oversight and what the state could do to address the risks they pose.

“It’s a Frankenstein-like chemical product,” said Kimberly Roy, a commissioner on the Cannabis Control Commission.

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More: After state puts brakes on Hemp beverage sales, market is left in ‘state of uncertainty’

The experts were clear: it’s up to the Legislature to act. They suggested Massachusetts establish a state-funded and -run standards laboratory for testing suspect products, survey the state to determine which local departments of health need additional resources and shoring up, and set clear state standards for hemp products. They said businesses also need to be educated that the products are illegal in Massachusetts.

What’s at issue?

  • While hemp and marijuana are derived from the same plant, and products infused with hemp derivatives can be intoxicating, not all CBD- or hemp-infused products are intoxicating.
  • With manufacturing oversight lacking, products can be contaminated by unknown substances.
  • Solvents used to extract cannabinoids from hemp can be toxic.
  • Ingredient labels do not always match the substances in the products.
  • They are marketed and sold to all ages, including young children.
  • Only those growers, manufacturers, distributers and retailers who are licensed and regulated by the state can sell intoxicating cannabis products legally.

The proliferation of the products can be traced to the 2018 federal Farm Bill that removed hemp from the schedule of illegal substances, allowing its cultivation for industrial purposes, according to Cheryl Sbarra, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards. The plant is grown for its fiber and used to make rope, textiles and paper.

In removing the plant from the schedule of drugs, the federal government did limit the amount of THC, also called Delta 9, in a plant. Those containing less than 0.3% Delta 9 at harvest are considered hemp; plants with greater concentrations of the chemical compound are called marijuana.

In Massachusetts, the state Department of Agricultural Resources oversees the cultivation and harvest of hemp. The plant is tested for Delta 9 concentrations only at harvest. The Cannabis Control Commission oversees the cannabis industry.

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Cannabis is tested for potency, for diverse contaminants from pesticide residues to heavy metals and molds. The state oversees the cultivation, harvest, manufacturing, product packaging, distribution and sales.

In contrast, manufacturers of hemp products, many working out of state, have no oversight at all.

Distillers can derive many different cannabinoids from marijuana, including Delta 8 and Delta 10. These can also be synthesized in a laboratory. That process uses solvents that can pose a health risk.

In analyzing hemp-infused substances, the CCC has found between 15 and 30 contaminants in products that analysts do not recognize.

“We don’t have names for them; we see the contaminants in the products, but we don’t know what they are; don’t know if they ever existed before,” Roy told the legislators.

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Roy said she has heard from cannabis retailers who have invested at least $1 million in obtaining a state license and their dismay at seeing hemp-infused products, with Delta 8 and Delta 10 compounds, for sale online and at gas stations.

“There’s no testing, no advertising restrictions, no labeling and no tax benefit to the state,” Roy said.  

Masquerading as candy

“There are new products being sold all the time,” said Maureen Buzby, tobacco control coordinator for the Melrose Board of Health.

Public health officials also complained of the lack of resources and overriding authority to address the proliferation of hemp products.

Licensed retailers, those selling tobacco or alcohol products, can be warned that they could lose their licenses if they don’t remove the products from their shelves. Places that sell prepared foods also require licenses.

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But health officials’ hands are tied when it comes to stores selling self-stable food items.

“We’re talking Twinkies and Coke,” Sbarra said. “They don’t need a permit to sell those items in Massachusetts.”

State Department of Public Health Secretary Dr. Robert Goldstein suggested the Legislature work in coordination with the Cannabis Control Commission, the Department of Agricultural Resources and his own department to resolve jurisdictional issues.

Data indicate that ingested cannabis products can have different effects than smoked products, and can affect children differently than adults, Goldstein said. There have been instances of overdoses and a need for hospitalization of children younger than 10 for breathing support.

“They look like candy,” Goldstein said, and added, “what kid doesn’t want to grab a pack off the shelf at the Home Depot and put it in the cart?”

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Massachusetts

Unemployment claims in Massachusetts increased last week

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Unemployment claims in Massachusetts increased last week


Initial filings for unemployment benefits in Massachusetts rose last week compared with the week prior, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday.

New jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, increased to 4,830 in the week ending June 8, up from 4,506 the week before, the Labor Department said.

U.S. unemployment claims rose to 242,000 last week, up 13,000 claims from 229,000 the week prior on a seasonally adjusted basis.

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Puerto Rico saw the largest percentage increase in weekly claims, with claims jumping by 309.8%. North Dakota, meanwhile, saw the largest percentage drop in new claims, with claims dropping by 58.1%.

The USA TODAY Network is publishing localized versions of this story on its news sites across the country, generated with data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s weekly unemployment insurance claims report. 



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Massachusetts on verge of becoming second-to-last state to outlaw 'revenge porn'

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Massachusetts on verge of becoming second-to-last state to outlaw 'revenge porn'


BOSTON — A bill aimed at outlawing “revenge porn” has been approved by lawmakers in the Massachusetts House and Senate and shipped to Democratic Gov. Maura Healey, a move advocates say was long overdue.

If signed by Healey, the bill — which bars the sharing of explicit images or videos without the consent of those depicted in the videos — would leave South Carolina as the only state not to have a law specifically banning revenge porn.

Supports say the bill, which landed on Healey’s desk Thursday, would align Massachusetts with the other 48 states that have clear prohibitions on disseminating sexually explicit images and videos without the subject’s consent. It is a form of abuse that advocates say has grown increasingly common in the digital age, subjecting people to social and emotional harm often inflicted by former romantic partners.

The bill would make disseminating nude or partially nude photos of another person without their permission criminal harassment. Offenders would face up to two and a half years in prison and a fine of $10,000. On subsequent offenses, the punishment would increase to up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $15,000.

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“No person’s life should devolve into chaos because a private photo was shared without their permission, and no person should fear coercion or be threatened with the sharing of such a photo,” Senate President Karen Spilka said.

The bill explicitly states that even though a person might consent to the initial creation of an explicit image or video that doesn’t mean they are also agreeing that it can be distributed without their additional consent in the future.

The advent of artificial intelligence and deepfake technology in the creation of revenge porn has added to the concerns of lawmakers. Supporters said the bill opens the door to legislation further addressing the implications of the emerging technology.

Karissa Hand, an aide to Healey, said the governor, who was previously the state’s attorney general, “has long supported legislation to ban revenge porn and hold accountable those who would engage in abusive, coercive and deeply harmful behavior” and looks forward to reviewing any legislation that reaches her desk.

The legislation establishes a definition for coercive control to account for non-physical forms of abuse such as isolation, threatening harm toward a family member or pet, controlling or monitoring activities, damaging property, publishing sensitive information, and repeated legal action.

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Advocates describe coercive control as a pattern of deliberate behavior by an abuser that substantially restricts another person’s safety and autonomy.

By expanding the statute of limitation for domestic violence charges to 15 years, the bill would also give survivors a longer time to seek justice.

Under current law, minors who possess, purchase or share explicit photos of themselves or other minors are charged with violating child sexual abuse image laws and are required to register as sex offenders.

The bill would instead require the state attorney general to develop an educational diversion program to provide adolescents who engage in revenge porn with information about the consequences and life-altering effects caused by engaging in the behavior.

District attorneys would still have the authority to petition the court to bring criminal charges in extreme cases.

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Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, called passage of the bill in the Legislature “a milestone for survivors in Massachusetts.”

“Non-consensual sharing of intimate images impacts thousands of people in Massachusetts every year, and increases an individual’s likelihood of further sexual harm,” the group said in a written statement.

“This bill takes a thoughtful approach to addressing the problem – one that balances strong protections for survivors with a recognition that younger people who cause this harm often can and should benefit from educational diversion over prosecution,” the group added.



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23 sets of twins graduate from one Massachusetts middle school

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23 sets of twins graduate from one Massachusetts middle school


NEEDHAM, Mass. (AP) — Twenty-three sets of twins have graduated from a Massachusetts middle school, making up about 10% of the eighth-grade class.

The identical and fraternal twins graduated from Pollard Middle School in Needham, Massachusetts, on Wednesday. Another student, who is also a twin, graduated but her brother attends a different school, said principal Tamatha Bibbo.

It’s “quite unusual,” said Bibbo. “We typically have anywhere from five to 10 sets at most. Given our numbers, we have approximately 450 to 500 children in each grade so this was extraordinarily high.”

The school gave a special shout-out to the 23 sets of twins during the so-called “moving up” ceremony on Wednesday, she said. Twins account for around 3% of live births in the U.S., according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

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The Pollard Middle School graduates must all have completed up to 10 hours of service learning in their communities, and every year, the Needham Exchange Club offers five community service awards. For the first time this year, a set of twins — Lukas and Sameer Patel — won an award and a donation to their charity, Bibbo said.



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