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‘Frankenstein Bill’ that would have hurt Virginia hemp stakeholders fails to pass

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin
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A controversial cannabis bill that would have outlawed hemp-derived CBD and delta-8 THC products has failed to pass the Virginia State Senate and won’t be considered until the legislature’s next session.

Senate Bill 591 was turned back by the upper house by a narrow 20-21 margin in which the state’s lieutenant governor cast the deciding vote. The legislative action came last Thursday.

The Virginia Hemp Coalition (VHC) has said the measure would put Virginia businesses at a significant competitive advantage in the hemp economy, and mean millions of dollars in losses by retailers of hemp products in the state.

‘Egregious’

Calling it a “Frankenstein Bill,” VHC said the measure is an “egregious attempt at making hemp businesses and consumers criminals” based on restrictive amendments proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Sen. Emmett W. Hanger, Jr., who introduced SB-591, said “The governor’s amendments were ill-constructed, poorly thought out, and left lots of loopholes.”

By sending the bill to the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, the vote last week means the SB-591 will not be acted on again this year. The committee considers matters concerning alcoholic beverages and substance abuse, among other responsibilities.

Consumers unprotected

JM Pedini, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that while Youngkin’s efforts to re-criminalize personal possession of marijuana have failed for now, “the bad news is lawmakers’ inaction . . . allows for products containing unregulated and potentially unsafe synthetically-derived (delta-8) THC products to continue to proliferate in Virginia.”

“Consumers deserve to know what they’re purchasing, and far too often what’s on the label is not what’s in the package when it comes to unregulated products,” Pedini said.

Delta-8 THC products are widely available at retail and wholesale in Virginia where, as in many other parts of the USA, the products have flourished as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and local lawmakers and regulators have failed to set rules for the compound.

Reports have suggested that Virginia gas stations, convenience stores and other outlets have been selling mislabeled products that contain illegal amounts of delta-9 THC marketed as “legal” delta-8 products.

Divide over delta-8

Delta-8 THC is made from hemp-derived CBD that is synthetically transformed into a psychoactive compound that delivers a “high.” Some states have outlawed delta-8 while others have put it under laws and regulations governing the more common delta-9 THC derived from marijuana plants.

The hemp industry, lawmakers and regulators have been divided over whether the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which legalized hemp federally, intended to make psychoactive products derived from the plant legal.

VHC said SB-591 would give the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services too-broad powers in the regulation of non-intoxicating hemp products, specifically giving that agency the right to determine “on their own accord” per-milligram THC limits per package and per serving.

Outlawing cremes & lotions

The Coalition also criticized the law because it would require hemp-derived products to be tested for both delta-9 and delta-8 THC while the 2018 Farm Bill specifies that hemp extracts be tested only for delta-9, and criminalize non-intoxicating CBD products such as lotions and cremes for those under 21 years of age.

The bill also would institute penalties for the possession of more than two ounces of marijuana, and prohibit marijuana edibles “in the shape of a human, animal, vehicle, or fruit.”

Possession and home cultivation of marijuana became legal in Virginia last year, but the state’s recreational market is not scheduled to begin until 2024 after rulemaking. Medical marijuana is legal but restricted to licensed dispensaries.

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