Delta-8, a cannabinoid found in the Cannabis plant and also synthesized in labs, is in the news again.  Because Delta-8 is largely unregulated throughout the United States (including in Ohio), it is sometimes legally purchased and used by students.  A national study published in March 2024 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 11.4% of surveyed 12th-grade students had used Delta-8 in the past year.  This was the first national estimate of Delta-8 usage.

Governor DeWine has called on the Ohio General Assembly to regulate Delta-8.  Currently, seventeen states ban Delta-8, and another seven states regulate it.  Governor DeWine has suggested that Delta-8 regulations could be a part of marijuana regulation that has been under consideration by the General Assembly since voters approved recreational marijuana in November 2023.

Delta-8 is sometimes packaged like candy or other food products.  This can both aid in evading detection in schools and increase the risk of students unwittingly using it.  It can also be used in vapes, as a tincture, and smoked.  If it seems like Delta-8 is a relatively recent concern, that is partly due to the 2018 federal legislation which allowed for a minimal level of THC in hemp plants when farmed.

Because Delta-8 is not banned or regulated in Ohio, there is nothing to stop a store from selling it to school-age children.  In fact, the Ohio Department of Health conducted a limited test, and two fifteen-year-old students were able to buy Delta-8 gummies from a gas station within 3 miles of their school.  In recent years Ohio has averaged about 100 Delta-8 poisonings annually, and the medical community warns that use of Delta-8 is especially harmful to the developing brains of children.

School districts should revisit their student codes of conduct to ensure that any drug infractions are defined in a way that includes Delta-8 and other synthetic or derivative-type drugs.  It is important that policies and codes of conduct are carefully written to put students (and employees) on notice of prohibited substances, but to do so in a way that allows flexibility to include future variations of intoxicating substances as possible infractions.  It is not enough to simply ban illegal drugs because the law is not keeping up with the development of drugs.  Additionally, special education discipline questions can arise when a student is being disciplined for the use of newer drugs such as Delta-8.  Districts should consult with legal counsel to ensure student safety and legal compliance.