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Virginia lawmakers pass new rules regulating hemp products

Hemp plants thrive at the Old Manchester Hemp Co.'s growing facility in Richmond, Va.
Crixell Matthews
VPM News File
Hemp plants thrive at the Old Manchester Hemp Co.'s growing facility in Richmond.

The governor still has to sign the bill for it to take effect by July 1.

Virginia retailers will have to take some intoxicating hemp products like delta-8 and delta-10 off their shelves under legislation approved by the General Assembly on Wednesday.

The new rules include amendments from Gov. Glenn Youngkin allowing the sale of full-spectrum CBD products, in response to criticism from the mother of an epilepsy patient and the hemp industry.

Some Democrats, however, said the new rules contain loopholes that would be exploited with dangerous new products, while a representative from the hemp industry predicted it would trigger lawsuits.

Youngkin will still need to sign the bill before it goes into effect July 1.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger (R–Augusta) said Youngkin’s changes addressed safety concerns about the proliferation of the largely unregulated products without wiping out the hemp industry.

The retiring senator said allowing full-spectrum products, which contain trace amounts of THC, was especially important. THC is a psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant; by law, hemp plants must contain less than 0.3% THC, while cannabis plants generally contains more.

Hanger compared them to his late Aunt Bessie’s “famous” rum cake.

“It wasn't going to get you intoxicated, because there was a whole lot more sugar, and flour, and eggs and all that other stuff in there besides the rum,” Hanger said.

But Jason Amatucci, executive director of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, said the new rules would in fact ban some full-spectrum products. He argued the rules violated the2018 U.S. Farm Bill and would force job cuts in the industry.

“We expect there to be a strong and swift reaction to this attack on the hemp industry with a major lawsuit in one or more courts,” Amatucci said in a statement.

Lawmakers initially passed Hanbger’s bill (and an identical counterpart from Del. Terry Kilgore (R–Scott) in February on bipartisan votes. It created new civil penalties of $10,000 for manufacturing or selling products with more than 0.3% of THC or more than 2 milligrams of THC per package.

Backers of the effort pointed to a rise in emergency room visits and poison control calls from people who’ve ingested the products.

Youngkin made some changes to the bill to address concerns from the hemp industry. His amendment removed the requirement of adding a bittering agent in their products. It also allowed products to exceed the THC limit as long as they met a 25::1 CBD-to-THC ratio.

Del. Dawn Adams (D–Richmond) argued the ratio would still allow manufacturers to create intoxicating products.

“This does not move the needle,” Adams said in a floor speech.

Delta-8 and similar products have popped up across the state in the wake of the federal Farm Bill. At the same time, top Virginia Republicans have rejected attempts to legalize recreational cannabis sales. Youngkin has been circumspect about whether he’d ever take that step while in office.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.