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INTERACTIVE: Could hemp join tobacco as big cash crop in Virginia?

At first glance, it looks like a stoner’s paradise: acres of plants that resemble marijuana. But this crop is hemp, a relative of cannabis that has commercial uses ranging from textiles and animal feed to health products.

Capital News Service

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By Daniel Berti and Andrew Gionfriddo

At first glance, it looks like a stoner’s paradise: acres of plants that resemble marijuana. But this crop is hemp, a relative of cannabis that has commercial uses ranging from textiles and animal feed to health products.

Officials at the Southern Virginia Hemp Co., as well as other farmers and processors of the plant, say hemp could be a big boost to the state’s agricultural sector as demand for tobacco wanes. And it just got much easier to grow hemp in the commonwealth.

Lawmakers have amended the state’s hemp laws to match the rules in the 2018 federal farm bill passed by Congress. Virginia farmers can now grow hemp for producing cannabidiol, or CBD, a naturally occurring chemical that some say has mental and physical health benefits.

CBD products have become popular over the past few years, with some industry analysts predicting the CBD industry will be worth $22 billion by 2022. Until now, only researchers at Virginia universities could grow hemp for making CBD.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has seen a surge in grower and processor applications since Congress passed the farm bill in December. The agency expects the number of applicants to increase even more now that Virginia has amended its hemp laws to match the federal laws.

“VDACS was not issuing registrations to processor applicants who indicated that their sole goal was to sell a hemp-derived CBD to the public,” said Erin Williams, a spokesperson for the agency. “With the 2019 amendment, I think it will clear up the gray area.”

As of Tuesday, the department had issued 629 grower registrations and 92 processor registrations. So far, Virginia hemp growers are planning to cultivate over 2,000 acres of hemp this year.

In Southside Virginia, where tobacco growers have been hit hard by declining sales and tariffs on their products, farmers are increasingly turning to hemp as a potential cash crop that can be grown in addition to tobacco. Southside Virginia has more registered hemp growers than any other region in the state.

“There’s significant interest in Southside Virginia, particularly among tobacco growers who are looking to add a crop to what they’re doing,” Williams said.

For years, several other states have allowed farmers to grow hemp for the manufacture of CBD products. But Virginia farmers were barred from doing so until lawmakers approved House Bill 1839 in February.

Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law on March 21. Thanks to an emergency clause, it took effect immediately.

The legislation comes on the heels of the 2018 federal farm bill, which established a regulatory framework for the commercial production of hemp. HB 1839 conforms Virginia’s hemp laws to match the provisions of the federal bill.

The Southern Virginia Hemp Co., a farm in the town of Jarratt straddling Greenville and Sussex counties, is expanding its operations to meet the demand for CBD products. The company plans to grow between 75 and 150 acres of hemp this year and aims to hire 40 additional employees to work on the farm this summer.

Wayne Grizzard, owner of the Southern Virginia Hemp Co. and Virginia Homegrown Botanicals, said the new laws could have a positive impact for farmers across the commonwealth, especially for tobacco farmers who have been hit hard by tobacco tariffs levied against the United States by China.

“One of my partner’s farms was for tobacco. He lost all three contracts this year because of the tariffs,” Grizzard said. “Some of the farmers have been forced to grow hemp because they don’t have anything to replace it.”

Since colonial times, Virginia farmers — even George Washington — have planted hemp, using the fiber to make rope and other goods. Historian estimate that by the mid-18th century, Virginia had 12,000 acres cultivated for hemp. Marijuana and hemp were both banned in the 1930s under the Marihuana Tax Act, however. (And yes, that is how the law spelled marijuana.)

Now, Grizzard, once a vegetable farmer, has converted his entire farm to hemp.

“When we first started growing, everybody kind of turned their nose up because it’s cannabis,” Grizzard said. “Once they started realizing that everybody’s getting into it and there’s money involved, they started singing a different tune.”

Until now, Virginia’s hemp industry has failed to keep pace with neighboring Kentucky and North Carolina. Both states have been eyeing hemp as an economic driver for several years.

In 2019, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture approved 1,035 applications to cultivate up to 42,086 acres of industrial hemp, as well as 2.9 million square feet of greenhouse space for hemp cultivation.

North Carolina has 634 licensed farmers growing hemp on about 8,000 acres and 3.4 million square feet of greenhouse space.

Grizzard said the next step for hemp in Virginia is still up in the air. He said the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services must submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture “because the USDA has taken over all states’ hemp programs.”

“As long we’re there to fight, battle and voice our opinions as farmers and business owners, we need to stick together and figure out what we need,” he said.

Grizzard and other farmers are concerned about regulations that could stifle their production and overall business model.

“They could come up with some crazy laws that go against everything we’re doing,” he said. “You never know — there’s always that chance.”

One of the Southern Virginia Hemp Co.’s most popular products is hemp extract oil — cannabidiol. CBD by itself does not cause a “high,” but it has gained popularity as a treatment for a wide range of ailments.

According to Peter Grinspoon, contributing editor of Harvard Health Publishing, CBD has been used to treat chronic pain as well as some diseases that more familiar medicines have failed to help or significantly alleviate.

“CBD has been touted for a wide variety of health issues, but the strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome,” Grinspoonwrote in a blog post last year.

“CBD is commonly used to address anxiety, and for patients who suffer through the misery of insomnia, studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.”

As Grinspoon notes, a lot of the support for CBD comes from testimonials and anecdotal evidence. There has been a lack of formal medical research because CBD supplements are not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

CDB is the second most active ingredient in cannabis after tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the principal psychoactive constituent. Hemp also contains a small amount of THC — but not enough to produce a “high.”

Marketing CBD could just be scratching the surface in regard to medicinal components of the hemp plant.

Now that derivatives of hemp are legal, other cannabinoids besides CBD can be extracted from the plant as long they remain below the 0.3% THC threshold, Grizzard said. These other chemical extracts include cannabigerol, cannabinol and cannabichromene.

“Every single plant we grow has a different profile. They all have different cannabinoids in them,” Grizzard said.

“Some of them are higher in CBD; some have high CBG, CBN, CBC. There are a lot of different chemicals in that plant. There’s a lot of unknown of what these chemicals do for people.”

The Southern Virginia Hemp Co. hopes to find whether different cannabinoids help with specific ailments. Whether a flash in the pan or the sign of a new wave of medicine, CBD and hemp products have gained popularity over the past couple of years.

“It’s the doctors, the pharmacists, the physical therapists — they’re giving recommendations to people to take this stuff,” Grizzard said. “It’s not me.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Department of Public Utilities encourages reopening businesses to flush water before use

As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, the utility encourages the flushing of internal pipes before any water use resumes.

RVAHub Staff

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The City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has been providing safe drinking water during the COVID-19 pandemic and it remains a priority. As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, the utility encourages the flushing of internal pipes before any water use resumes.

With non-essential business being closed due to COVID-19 since March, water has been sitting in pipes. This water can lose the benefits of necessary disinfection, which could lead to bacteria growth and thus unsuitable for drinking, hand washing, or other uses. Additionally, turning on water after prolonged closures could disrupt plumbing materials and release contaminants into the water.

“To ensure fresh water is being used by newly reopening businesses, we strongly encourage them to flush the water in their systems. This is important to maintain the public health and safety of all residents and visitors,” says DPU Director Calvin D. Farr, Jr.

This process includes running water through all faucets, fountains, and other water treatment/enhancement systems with both hot and cold water for several minutes before using.

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Business

Stoney: City to “cautiously move” into Phase 1 of reopening plan on Friday, May 29th

On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond will cautiously move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan. Masks will be required in all indoor spaces and restaurants will be asked to voluntarily connect patrons’ information for contact tracing purposes.

RVAHub Staff

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On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond will cautiously move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan.

“When I look at the picture in totality, given the added tools at our disposal, the current trends in our local data and my faith in Richmonders to look out for one another, I believe that Richmond can cautiously move into Phase 1 on Friday, May 29,” said Mayor Stoney at Thursday’s press conference.

During the first delay that the City of Richmond requested, the Stoney administration and Richmond City Health District expanded testing efforts, implemented a contact tracing effort, ensured every COVID-19 positive Richmonder will be able to isolate safely and securely with supported isolation, and advocated for a statewide mask requirement.

The city initially requested a modified Phase 1 reopening that maintained restrictions on places of worship and personal care and grooming services, as mass gatherings and close personal contact for extended periods of time both significantly increase chance of community spread.

Because the governor denied the city’s modified plan for reopening, Richmond will move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan, with strong recommendations reflecting the mayor’s proposed modifications. Local guidance and helpful links to state guidance are available here. The state has yet to provide guidance on what Phases 2 and 3 will include.

The mayor detailed a number of best practices for residents and business owners to ensure that the city moves into Phase 1 cautiously. The best practices emerged from conversations between the Stoney administration and members of the business community, faith leadership, and health professionals.

  1. All residents who are medically able to should wear a face-covering that covers the mouth and nose when in public spaces. The wearing of a face covering does not negate the need for 6-foot social distancing.
  2. Faith communities should continue to meet virtually if possible. If in-person meetings are absolutely necessary, the mayor strongly recommends faith groups meet outside while practicing strict social distancing and enforcing the face-covering requirement.
  3. Food and drink establishments that choose to offer outdoor service at half capacity are asked to request a name and contact information of patrons who dine in for contact tracing purposes. This practice is voluntary for both patrons and restaurants. However, collecting this small amount of information for each dine-in party will go far in assisting the Richmond City Health District in tracing and containing outbreaks. Guidance on this practice is available here.

The mayor made two requests of the state: to continue to assist the city in further expanding testing capacity and in providing adequate face-coverings and hand sanitizer throughout the capital city.

“Quite frankly, we’re going to need more support from the state for our residents and our businesses to reopen safely and sustainably,” the mayor noted in his appeal. “I make these recommendations and requests of the state because, as has been my mantra this entire pandemic. Reopening should be slow and steady.”

“When public health is on the line, blindly pushing forward is not an option. Decisions must be thoughtful, and they must be based in our collective knowledge of and love for our city.”

See more reopening guidance for local businesses here: www.rvastrong.org/reopeningguidance.

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Governor Northam announces face covering requirement, denies Richmond’s request to modify phase one reopening

Governor Ralph Northam on Tuesday signed Executive Order Sixty-Three, requiring Virginians to wear face coverings in public indoor settings to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. At the same time, the governor denied a request by Mayor Levar Stoney to place restrictions on places of worship and personal grooming businesses when Richmond enters phase one of reopening Friday.

RVAHub Staff

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Governor Ralph Northam on Tuesday signed Executive Order Sixty-Three, requiring Virginians to wear face coverings in public indoor settings to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Governor also directed the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.

The governor also signed an amended Executive Order Fifty-One, extending Virginia’s state of emergency declaration.

The new executive order supports previous actions the Governor has taken to respond to COVID-19 in Virginia, and ensures workers and consumers are protected as the Commonwealth gradually eases public health restrictions. The Governor’s statewide requirement for wearing face coverings is grounded in science and data, including recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that individuals should wear face coverings in public settings. Face coverings do not take the place of public health guidelines to maintain six feet of physical distancing, increase cleaning and sanitation, and wash hands regularly.

“We are making progress to contain the spread of COVID-19 and now is not the time for Virginians to get complacent,” said Governor Northam. “Science shows that face coverings are an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, but wearing them is also a sign of respect. This is about doing the right thing to protect the people around us and keep everyone safe, especially as we continue to slowly lift public health restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

A face covering includes anything that covers your nose and mouth, such as a mask, scarf, or bandana. Medical-grade masks and personal protective equipment should be reserved for health care professionals. Under the Governor’s executive order, any person age ten and older must wear a mask or face covering at all times while entering, exiting, traveling through, and spending time in the following public settings:

  • Personal care and grooming businesses
  • Essential and non-essential brick and mortar retail including grocery stores and pharmacies
  • Food and beverage establishments
  • Entertainment or public amusement establishments when permitted to open
  • Train stations, bus stations, and on intrastate public transportation, including in waiting or congregating areas
  • State and local government buildings and areas where the public accesses services
  • Any indoor space shared by groups of people who may congregate within six feet of one another or who are in close proximity to each other for more than ten minutes

Exemptions to these guidelines include while eating and drinking at a food and beverage establishment; individuals who are exercising; children under the age of two; a person seeking to communicate with a hearing-impaired person, for which the mouth needs to be visible; and anyone with a health condition that keeps them from wearing a face covering. Children over the age of two are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering to the extent possible.

At the same time, Northam denied a request by the Stoney administration that sought to modify the City of Richmond’s move into phase one by placing additional restrictions on places of worship and salons, spas, and other personal grooming businesses.

The governor responded saying that Richmond should adhere to the same phase one regulations as other cities and counties in the Commonwealth beginning this Friday, May 29th.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five is available here. The text of amended Executive Order Fifty-One is available here.

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