Hemp law changes relieves some Virginia parents: 'Nice to know that you were heard'

Posted at 6:29 PM, Mar 29, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) has amended a hotly-debated hemp regulation bill to allow for the use of therapeutic products some Virginia families rely on for medical reasons.

Some in the Virginia hemp industry see the changes as a positive, but still think the legislation will harm local hemp farmers and producers.

For eight years, Lisa Smith's daughter Haley has relied on CBD oil from out of state to control debilitating seizures caused by Dravet Syndrome.

The hemp regulation bill that passed the Virginia General Assembly threatened the Smith family's access to the oil

The hemp bill aimed to crack down on the sale of unregulated synthetic THC products, like Delta-8 and others, that produce a similar high to marijuana, according to the bill's backers.

Those unregulated synthetic products have been blamed for a rash of poisonings in Virginia children who mistakenly ingest the products, some of which look like gummies or candy.

The bills as passed by the legislature would cap the amount THC included in hemp-derived products at two milligrams. THC and CBD are naturally occurring in hemp, but the levels of THC are low, and CBD is not intoxicating.

Amendments handed down by the Governor would allow for products to contain more than the two milligrams per package limit if the amount of CBD in the product is greater than the level of THC by a ratio of 25 to 1.

The bottle the Smiths receive from Colorado would fall within that 25:1 threshold.

“Nice to know that you were heard,” Smith said. “I’m totally behind [regulating synthetic THC products], but I don't want my child harmed in the same process.”

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Smith said many of the state lawmakers she spoke with lately did not understand the crackdown on hemp-derived products would also impact CBD products, calling it an “unintended consequence.”

“They didn't even think that they were undoing something that a legislator’s loved one could take because they didn't realize it extended to [CBD products],” Smith said.

The bill does require retailers who sell hemp products to notify state regulators and provide documentation that the products have been lab tested and labeled accurately.

“The hemp legislation continues to work to regulate synthetic products like Delta 8 and make sure we're protecting our children and Virginians from a consumer protection standpoint,” Governor Youngkin said Wednesday. "I think we did a very good job with the legislation to make sure that CBD products are available, but there's still a limitation on synthetic THC content in those products. I think we came together with all participants, and we crafted a really good amendment."

Jason Amatucci, the founder and president of the Virginia Hemp Coalition, said although they support the amendments, the overall bill still throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Amatucci said cracking down on unregulated synthetic products like Delta-8 are welcome, but the regulations would hinder the overall ability of Virginia producers to enter the marketplace and compete with industrial hemp producers, many of which are located out of state.

“They had their chance to fix this bill. It's still not right. And now they want to say, 'well, you have to accept it,'” Amatucci said. “We’re tinkering with nature here. If you take natural hemp extract, some of these natural extracts will not fit that 25 to one; it'll be a lower ratio. There are also products on the market that need maybe a one-to-one ratio even. We need to open up this marketplace and these wellness products so that small businesses and family farmers can have an opportunity here.”

Amatucci said large hemp producers will be able to adjust formulas quickly and sell products in Virginia that comply with the amendments. Smaller local farmers and producers, he said, will not be able to adjust as quickly. Their market share will be threatened, he said.

“They put a lot of sweat and tears into this business to provide a good product for their customers. Now, you’re having that wiped out by people who don’t understand or don’t care,” Amatucci said. “We have to really think about these folks taking choice off the store shelves to go after something else. [The amended bill] comes close but it needs more work.”

The bill also levies daily fines and potential criminal charges against retailers who do not register with the state.

Amatucci is urging state lawmakers to reject the amendments and the Governor to veto the entire bill, which would keep state law as is.

Smith is hopeful lawmakers will approve of Youngkin’s amendments because of the uncertainty his signature on the original bill that passed the legislature would mean for their family.

“What do we do? Do we become criminals, or do we lose our treatment?” Smith asked.

The General Assembly reconvenes to consider the Governor’s amendments and vetoes on April 12.

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