Trumbull group mobilizes against synthetic THC in town

Left to right: Vicki Tesoro, Trumbull First Selectman, Officer Wes Bartosik, Lara Walden, Melissa McGarry, TPAUD Director and Kiersten Naumann, TPAUD Program Coordinator.

Left to right: Vicki Tesoro, Trumbull First Selectman, Officer Wes Bartosik, Lara Walden, Melissa McGarry, TPAUD Director and Kiersten Naumann, TPAUD Program Coordinator.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

TRUMBULL — The town's cannabis moratorium has so far blocked the sale of the recently legalized product in town. But the substance, and similar synthetic products, is still a concern, according to Melissa McGarry.

"There are all these synthetic versions of THC, that are have emerged in the market and some of them are hemp derived and some of them are CBD derived," she said.

McGarry is the project director for Trumbull’s Prevention Partnership, or TPAUD and the organization is launching an outreach effort to local businesses about THC products. She's also reaching out to adults who can now travel to other municipalities and buy cannabis, which she said, can be accidentally ingested by children.

These initiatives are part of an educational campaign by TPAUD to prevent the newly legal drug from falling into the hands of children, even as many people no longer view it as dangerous.

One of the biggest sources of concern according to McGarry, is the availability of synthetic THC from local convenience stores and gas stations. So TPAUD will reach out to these businesses and inform them selling these products still requires state authorization.

"We'll be targeting them with an education campaign first, which is, 'Hey, the law has changed. We understand that'" she said. "We want to be clear that state law prohibits any sale of any THC product without a license from the Department of Consumer Protection."

State Rep. David Rutigliano who represents Trumbull and is also a member of TPAUD, cited an unofficial survey of 11 businesses in town.

"Eight of them had a THC based product on their shelf, either delta 8 or delta 9, which is synthetic marijuana, but starts as CBD and then one vape shop that had all that stuff," Rutigliano said.

Delta 8 and delta 9 are synthetic compounds derived from CBD that are commonly sold in smoke and vape shops, among other places, but legally are restricted to licensed dispensaries.

But the legalization of recreational marijuana has also complicated McGarry's mission. Many adults and children no longer think its harmful, she said, especially after the state allowed several dispensaries to open across Connecticut. One of them is in New Haven, a short drive away from the town.

Legalization also means TPAUD will approach marijuana like it already does with legal substances such as alcohol.

"We have a long history of working with our alcohol retailers — many many years of working with our alcohol retailers," she said. "And we've certainly done vaping education with our tobacco retailers."

Delta 8 and 9 she said, are particularly concerning since using synthetic cannabis could lead to serious health issues according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But TPAUD isn't getting police involved, at first.

"If we become aware that somebody is selling products, they would also be referred to the Department of Consumer Protection so the state has a compliance role," she said. "That's why it's always easier to start with education instead of jumping to compliance and punitive steps."

Yet even if the legal landscape around marijuana has changed within the state, Trumbull's moratorium has been extended for another year in 2022. First Selectman Vicki Tesoro said the town wanted to see how cannabis sales would impact residents. 

"Other towns will decide what is right for them," Tesoro said.

Police did not receive any calls for accidental cannabis intoxication in 2022, according to Lt. Brian Weir, although he said it was possible Trumbull EMS had. Trumbull EMS did not have any information indicating such calls either. 

TPAUD is nevertheless erring on the side of caution. The town's health department previously handed out lockboxes to prevent children from abusing medications, but it now has a new purpose.

"We changed the whole marketing when it became legal and now instead of just a medication lockbox, this is a medication and cannabis lockbox," McGarry said.

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