RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A group of hemp processors and companies sent a letter to Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) saying legislation passed this year to set regulations on THC-infused hemp products “would have the unintended result of eliminating the thriving Virginia hemp industry.”
In a March 6 letter, the Virginia Cannabis Association urged Youngkin to consider legislative changes to the compromise passed by the General Assembly to set tougher regulations on hemp-derived synthetic products containing THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that gives users a high.
Youngkin and many lawmakers have raised concerns over these largely unregulated, intoxicating products, which can be found at gas stations, smoke shops and other businesses.
Under the bill on Youngkin’s desk, businesses selling “an industrial hemp extract or food containing an industrial hemp extract” must get a permit to do so and the products they sell can’t contain more than 0.3% THC or have more than two milligrams of THC per package.
The legislation also sets rules on labeling and packaging of hemp products, a move the association applauded in its letter. But the group wrote that “several unnecessary restrictions” added to the legislation would nearly wipe out the hemp industry, expand the unregulated market and lead to public health and safety concerns.
“As drafted, SB903 and HB2294 would largely eliminate this entire industry, along with the associated jobs and revenue, from the Commonwealth,” the association wrote in the letter.
The association’s letter raised concerns over how THC is defined in the bill, saying it would make CBD, a chemical found in cannabis that does not get people high, illegal. CBD is found in several products, including common personal care and health items.
“The 2mg THC limit is arbitrary, unconnected to any of the concerns you have raised and would needlessly eliminate the vast majority of non-intoxicating CBD products from the market,” the group wrote. “Used mainly for pain relief, these non-intoxicating and non-addictive products are an acceptable alternative for many people who don’t want to use opioids or marijuana.”
The letter also criticizes the bill’s requirement that bittering agents be labeled as non-ingestable CBD products and calls the new labeling rules for “THC-free, non-intoxicating CBD products” in the legislation more “cumbersome” than regulations on medical cannabis products.
In the letter, the association claims that the state agency tasked with regulating hemp products, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is unprepared to provide needed guidance on these bittering agents and that the requirement would harm businesses.
The cannabis association cited an analysis by Whitney Economics that found hemp-derived cannabinoid retailers in the commonwealth have an estimated combined sales of $1.2 billion and the industry employs about 4,300 workers.
The study found at least 371 businesses in Virginia would close and 64 more out of the state would also shut down.
“The Governor has 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,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a statement Tuesday.
Porter added that the final version of the bill is under review and Youngkin’s administration is meeting with stakeholders on the legislation.
“The Governor looks forward to the enhanced enforcement this will bring to keep dangerous intoxicants off the shelves and away from Virginia children,” Porter’s statement said.
Youngkin has until March 27 to amend or veto legislation passed during the 2023 legislative session.