RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Virginia lawmakers approved Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s changes to a hemp bill that aims to crack down on intoxicating hemp-derived products, but not before a delegate said the final version would create a “state-sanctioned illicit THC market.”
The legislation that Youngkin edited initially called for limiting the total amount of THC — the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that gives users a high — in products to two milligrams per package and capping the total THC concentration in each product at 0.3%.
The effort was meant to stop the sale of synthetically made hemp products containing delta-8 THC, which have been sold in gas stations, smoke shops and other businesses in Virginia without many regulations in place.
Gov. Youngkin (R) and some lawmakers set their sights on these products, pointing to a rise in poison control calls and emergency room visits, especially those involving children who have consumed hemp-derived products that resemble common snacks such as Oreos and gummies.
The legislation drew widespread attention from the hemp industry, consumers and health groups, sparking debate in the General Assembly over its impact on businesses and Virginians who buy products that would have been banned under the new rules.
Youngkin and sponsors of the legislation were met with concerns from consumers of certain therapeutic CBD items, specifically parents who use such products to help their epileptic children with seizures, who said the bill would have stopped them from buying them.
In response, Youngkin proposed to allow products to have more than two milligrams of THC per package if they have a 25:1 ratio of CBD to THC.
Both chambers of the General Assembly approved the governor’s proposed amendments to the legislation during the annual “veto session” on April 12 with bipartisan support, meaning the new rules will go into effect in July.
In a statement after the veto session ended, Youngkin said he was humbled that lawmakers decided to “improve our enforcement of intoxicating hemp product regulations.”
Before the votes, State Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta), the sponsor of the Senate’s version of the bill, said lawmakers would be doing a “good deed” by approving the changes.
“All these measures that were placed there were either a part of the original legislation or basically concessions to the hemp industry to make it more palatable,” Sen. Hanger said before Wednesday’s vote, “and for particularly for the children of concerned mothers if you will that wanted us to make sure that they could still have available these products for their children who have epilepsy.”
Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) said she knew many of her colleagues in the House of Delegates had made up their minds on the legislation but asked them to have an “open mind” to her concerns.
“This is a very important bill, and this bill is about money at this point,” Del. Adams said before the House voted to approve Youngkin’s amendments. “And the bill that we had before this substitution was about public safety.”
Adams, a nurse practitioner, said she wanted to address concerns that she couldn’t speak on the issue because she certifies patients for medical cannabis, telling the House that she has only taken $13,000 from medical processors during her time in the legislature.
“It’s very concerning to me, some of these false narratives and I’m particularly sad that an out-of-state hemp company has leveraged vulnerable patient populations for their own agenda,” Adams said, referencing concerns that epileptic children can’t get CBD products used as anti-seizure medication from out of Virginia under the original bill.
Adams called out “false narratives” about the 25:1 ratio, saying the language in Youngkin’s substitute would allow the state to enforce the rules differently because it doesn’t specify which products it would apply to.
The delegate said she’s received a “100% guarantee” that Virginia’s medical cannabis program can manufacture such CBD products to help with seizures, a claim some Republicans pushed against.
She added that it would create a “state-sanctioned illicit THC market,” leaving Virginia with far-reaching and unintended consequences.
“This is a very frustrating bill to read and to hear that people think this is OK. This is not OK. This bill does nothing. This bill does nothing,” Adams said on the House floor. “The language of this bill does nothing. It’s not enforceable, it’s not protecting us. It does nothing.”
Under Youngkin’s substitute, businesses must apply for a regulated hemp product retail facility registration, pay a yearly $1,000 fee for each store where products are sold and could face up to a $10,000 fine per day for a violation.
Products need clear labels showing their ingredients, how much is in a single serving, the substance’s THC percentage and how many milligrams of THC are in each package and per serving. Each product must also have a certificate of analysis produced by an independent lab.