Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin faces pressure weather to sign the controversial THC products bills or not

Hemp-based THC products are a controversial topic in Virginia, where lawmakers have recently passed a bill that would impose stricter regulations on them. These products are derived from hemp, a type of cannabis plant that contains low levels of THC, the psychoactive compound that causes a high. However, some hemp products are infused with synthetic or extracted THC to create a more potent effect.

The bill, SB 1406, aims to crack down on these intoxicating hemp products by requiring them to be tested and labeled for THC content, and limiting their sale to licensed marijuana dispensaries. The bill also prohibits hemp processors from producing or selling any product that contains more than 0.3% THC by dry weight, which is the federal limit for hemp.

Supporters of the bill argue that it is necessary to protect public health and safety, as well as to prevent confusion among consumers and law enforcement. They claim that some hemp-based THC products are marketed as CBD or wellness products, but contain high levels of THC that can cause impairment, addiction and adverse reactions. They also say that these products undermine the regulated marijuana market that Virginia is planning to launch in 2024.

The group, which includes the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Medical Society of Virginia, the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, wrote a letter to Youngkin on Thursday. They expressed their concern about the increasing number of cases involving children who have consumed unregulated CBD and other hemp-derived products. They praised the bills for having “common-sense provisions” to ensure proper oversight of these products.

The medical experts argue that these regulations are necessary to protect consumers from potential harm caused by contaminated or mislabeled CBD products. They also point out that CBD products may interact with other medications or have side effects that are not well understood. They warn that children are especially vulnerable to accidental ingestion or overdose of CBD products.

The bills have passed both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly unanimously and await Youngkin’s signature. The governor has not indicated whether he will sign them or not. If he does, they will take effect on July 1st, along with other laws that legalize adult-use cannabis in Virginia under the supervision of the newly created Cannabis Control Authority.

The supporters of the bill’s reaction came after the Virginia Cannabis Association had expressed their opposition of the bill few days ago, citing several important reasons. The association claims that the bill would ban all hemp-derived products that contain any amount of THC, even if they are below the federal legal limit of 0.3%. They also argue that the bill would create confusion among consumers and law enforcement, as well as stifle innovation and economic growth in the hemp industry. The association says that hemp products are safe and beneficial for many people, especially those who use them for medical purposes.

A growing number of lawmakers, including Youngkin, have expressed concerns over the sale and distribution of largely unregulated, potentially intoxicating hemp products available at gas stations, smoke shops, and other businesses.

The proposed bill, which currently sits on Youngkin’s desk, would require businesses that sell “an industrial hemp extract or food containing an industrial hemp extract” to obtain a permit to do so. Furthermore, the products that they sell must not contain more than 0.3% THC, and each package must not have more than two milligrams of THC.

The legislation also includes provisions for labeling and packaging of hemp products, a development that has been praised by the association. However, the group expressed concern that “several unnecessary restrictions” were added to the bill. They believe these restrictions could decimate the hemp industry, lead to an expansion of the unregulated market, and create public health and safety issues.

Despite the association’s concerns, the proposed legislation addresses an important issue related to the sale and distribution of unregulated, potentially dangerous hemp products. The implementation of regulations regarding the labeling, packaging, and sale of these products would help protect consumers and create a safer marketplace for hemp-derived products.

“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.

In a letter to lawmakers, the association expressed concerns about the definition of THC in the proposed bill. They warned that the current definition would make cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive chemical found in cannabis, illegal. CBD is commonly found in a wide range of products, including personal care and health items.

The association’s concerns are rooted in the bill’s stipulation that any product containing more than 0.3% THC would be illegal. As CBD and THC are both chemical compounds found in cannabis, the association fears that products containing CBD could inadvertently contain THC levels above the legal limit. This would make these products illegal, despite not having any psychoactive effects.

The unintended consequences of such provisions could have serious implications for the manufacturers and consumers of these products. Therefore, lawmakers need to carefully consider the association’s concerns and take necessary steps to ensure that regulations regarding THC levels do not have unintended consequences that impact the legality of CBD-containing products.

“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 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.

Youngkin has until March 27 to amend or veto legislation passed during the 2023 legislative session.

Marco Harmon

I was born and raised in Roanoke, VA. I studied Communications Studies at Roanoke College, and I’ve been part of the news industry ever since. Visiting my favorite downtown Roanoke bars and restaurants with my friends is how I spend most of my free time when I'm not at the desk.

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