Youngkin administration says hemp bill accomplishes governor’s goals
The hemp industry argues the legislation would decimate their business.
A spokesperson for Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Monday legislation on the Republican’s desk accomplishes his goal of restricting the sales of intoxicating hemp products like delta-8 that have proliferated across the state.
Critics of his action have said the potential new law would decimate the nascent hemp industry and have an impact far beyond intoxicating products.
Youngkin’s spokesperson, Macaulay Porter, said in an email that the governor made “cracking down on dangerous THC intoxicants, including those synthesized from hemp, a priority to protect public safety.
“The conference report for HB2294 and SB903 does that,” Porter said, referring to the identical hemp bills. “The final text of the bill is in review and the Administration is meeting with stakeholders. The Governor looks forward to the enhanced enforcement this will bring to keep dangerous intoxicants off the shelves and away from Virginia children.”
The legislation — which passed with broad bipartisan support in Virginia’s House and more narrowly in the state Senate — caps the total amount of intoxicating THC in products to 2 milligrams per package. THC is the compound in marijuana that makes users feel “high.” That restriction would effectively take products like delta-8 and delta-10 off shelves in head shops and gas stations. Manufacturers say the products were legalized under the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill and became especially common since 2021, when Virginia lawmakers legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana without creating a retail market for recreational cannabis users.
Critics have said this year’s legislation would also ban full spectrum CBD products, which contain less than 0.3% THC and aren’t intoxicating. The bills would require hemp manufacturers to add a bittering agent to topical hemp ointments and increase civil penalties for some infractions.
Dylan Bishop, a lobbyist representing the Cannabis Business Association of Virginia, said in an interview his recent conversations with Youngkin administration officials left him with the impression that the governor was unlikely to make major changes to the legislation he’s currently reviewing. Bishop declined to name the people he met with or give specifics about what was discussed.
Bishop noted last year’s budget included restrictions on packaging, a ban on selling the products to people younger than 21, and testing and labeling requirements, though they would expire in July 2024.
“I think this bill is a solution in search of the problem,” he said.
A danger to public health?
A slew of health and public safety groups back the legislation, including the Virginia Sheriff's Association, the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Medical Society of Virginia, the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. The groups cite the lack of stringent testing on the products and a reported rise in cases of children taking the product as reasons for restricting their sale.
The state’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries, which hold regional monopolies, also back the bill.
Chris Holstege, medical director at the Blue Ridge Poison Center and a professor at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine, said in an interview many of the new hemp products hadn’t been well studied and were getting users sick.
Many of the products, Holstege said, only emerged during the pandemic in 2020. The poison center recorded 256 calls involving delta-8 between July 2021 and June 2022, up fivefold compared to the same period the year before. The numbers still fall far below some other substances, like pain relievers, which were the topic of nearly 2,300 calls in 2020. But Holstege said the rising delta-8 numbers are cause for concern.
“I see these as medications,” Holstege said. “They certainly have health impacts, and how do we make sure that it's safe for consumers to have access to these if that's the direction we're going?”
Bishop argued consumers were already protected against shady products by last year’s budget and the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. And he said the bill would simply shift benefits away from Virginia companies to the unregulated market or the government-sanctioned monopoly of medical marijuana suppliers run by out-of-state companies.
Threat to business
Virginia’s hemp retailers are bracing for a steep drop in business if Youngkin signs the bill.
An industry-backed economic study by Beau Whitney, a cannabis consultant hired by a consortium of Virginia hemp manufacturers and retailers, estimated the potential prohibition could result in more than 4,200 lost jobs.
Members of the industry said the bill would also affect CBD products that don’t get users high, like broad spectrum CBD and certain CBD dog treats.
Josh Breth, manager of Kultivate Wellness, estimated 70% of the items in the store’s Midlothian location would be made illegal if Youngkin signed the bill into law. He said most of the store’s clientele uses the product for therapeutic purposes, like treating anxiety or insomnia.
Breth acknowledged that some of the products on the market had gotten people sick. But he said lawmakers and Youngkin should consider tighter restrictions “instead of getting scared of what they don't understand and banning it completely.
“You can just regulate it in a sense that works for both the state and the consumer,” Breth said.