RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As the hemp industry in North Carolina continues to grow and evolve, new variations of products are popping up on shelves.
When Louis Rubio first heard of one of those products a few months ago, he had some questions.
"When we first heard about it, we were like skeptical, curious, unsure," Rubio said.
Rubio and Chloe Blesh co-founded Hemp Generation and have been navigating the changing hemp industry for years.
The product that initially shocked them is called the THCa flower.
"It's very concerning at first. We were very apprehensive. It was very hard to believe that this could be legal," Rubio said remembering their reaction a few months ago.
The reason behind the shock is that when smoked, THCa flower gives users a very similar effect to marijuana sold in dispensaries.
While neither recreational nor medical marijuana is legalized in the state, the products sold in North Carolina can closely mirror the effects on users.
"So what we're talking about is hemp that is essentially very similar to or even the same thing in certain cases as the marijuana that you're buying in regulated marijuana states," said attorney Rod Kight.
Kight represents numerous hemp businesses across the nation. He explained that North Carolina law divides cannabis into two categories; marijuana, which is illegal, and hemp. The two are differentiated by the amount of Delta 9 THC they contain. All products sold in North Carolina need to contain no more than 0.3% of Delta 9 THC to be legal hemp.
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In its raw form, the THCa flower meets the legal qualifications of having less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC. But when heat is applied, like when the user smokes or vapes it, more of the product (the THCa) is converted to Delta-9 THC which allows its effect to mirror marijuana products sold in legalized states.
Some call the product a "loophole" in the law but Kight said he doesn't see it that way.
"THCa flower is just the latest iteration of an evolution of the hemp industry and the hemp plant itself in North Carolina, and we've seen lots of these iterations and the sky hasn't fallen," Kight said.
Kight said he does not know of any regulatory or legal action taken against the product and he doesn't expect there to be.
"The pushback that we're likely to see is actually from the marijuana industry itself, who doesn't want these products to compete with their own they want to have it all for themselves," Kight said.
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Chris Karazin, the owner of another cannabis store in the area, Carolindaica, called the loopholes "crazy."
"I've seen gummies that are like the size of your hand that allow it to be 0.3% Delta-9 THC," he said.
Karazin said that people are able to work and modify any of the other components of the cannabis plant, besides the Delta-9 component.
"Definitely, it wasn't what the 2018 Farm Bill was intending to do, but they just got so specific with the Delta-9 part," Karazin said.
While they might be legal, these changes and iterations of hemp-related products, do cause some confusion for consumers.
"The consumer does have a large burden on what he or she should be taking," Kight said.
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Experts advise consumers to ask questions in the shop and research some products ahead of time.
Kight also said consumers can ask for additional paperwork.
"Most good stores that sell hemp products will provide what's called a Certificate of Analysis. It's really just a sheet of paper, or can be on a computer, of course, that sets forth the compounds that are in the product and their concentration so that the consumer knows what they're actually taking," he said.
As for Rubio, he said he is excited to be able to offer new and legal products like the THCa flower and other new products as they are developed.
"We're following the rules, we're sticking to the law, we're doing everything we can to be lawful with our testing," he said. "We are able to keep doing this because this allows a safe avenue for people to get this product and know it is coming from a trusted source."
Dive into part one of the series here.