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Legislation to crack down on marijuana products, including synthetics, heads to Youngkin

The General Assembly failed at finding a path to starting recreational marijuana sales this year, but a law outlining stricter regulations for retailers selling what one lawmaker called “juiced-up” synthetic products made its way through the legislature last week with bipartisan support.

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By Jackie Llanos Hernandez

The General Assembly failed at finding a path to starting recreational marijuana sales this year, but a law outlining stricter regulations for retailers selling what one lawmaker called “juiced-up” synthetic products made its way through the legislature last week with bipartisan support.

The bill, which is now before Gov. Glenn Youngkin, explicitly bans sales of any substance that contains more than 0.3 percent or .25 milligrams of THC per serving or more than one milligram per package. The measurements would apply to any naturally occurring or synthetic version of THC such as delta-8, the popular synthetic substitute made from industrial hemp that producers claim is legal.

“This product is dangerous because people don’t understand the impact, the safety issues,”  said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, who introduced the legislation.

Since the personal possession and home cultivation of marijuana became legal in the commonwealth last year, but not commercial recreational sales of the drug, which is currently restricted to licensed medical dispensaries, have led to a wide variety of products that may or may not be legal being sold in retail outlets. As reported by The Mercury last month, gas stations, health food stores and marijuana retailers sold mislabeled products that contained illegal amounts of delta-9 THC marketed as the supposedly legal delta-8 counterpart. Wrangling between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate this year failed to produce a solution for legalizing recreational sales.

“Every year the language gets a little bit closer, ultimately, to what we need to support consumer safety to ensure consumer protections,” said Michelle Peace, a forensic science professor at VCU, who has conducted reviews of marijuana retail products sold in Virginia stores. “I don’t think that the bill is going to address absolutely everything we need it to address in terms of regulating cannabis, but I do think that it gets us closer.”

When it was introduced, Hanger’s SB 591 attempted to curtail marijuana retail products’ appeal to children by banning depictions of humans, animals, vehicles and fruits. But the law expanded to bring the unregulated market under control.

To close the loopholes when a new compound comes on the market it is essential for legislation to give state agencies flexibility in the existing regulatory framework, Peace said, describing the popularity of delta-8 as a perennial problem that would continue with scientific advancements.

Although the law passed with broad bipartisan support, hemp advocates such as Jason Amatucci, the president of the Virginia Hemp Coalition, say the legislation “throws the whole hemp industry under the bus.” Amatucci agreed with the provision that will regulate products’ appeal to children but said the limits set forth are so low they would criminalize most products. 

“This bill doesn’t do anything to actually solve the problem,” Amatucci said. “It actually just hurts the current law-abiding Virginia hemp industry that’s making good quality products.”

At the federal level, delta-8 remains unregulated because of a loophole in the 2018 farm bill that regulated the levels of delta-9 THC levels in hemp – legalizing a 0.3 percent standard that the law passed by the General Assembly mirrors – but does not mention delta-8.    

“All the politicians celebrate alcohol and everybody loves it,” Amatucci said. “But as soon as you have cannabis or someone is intoxicated with cannabis, everybody loses their minds on this state. They can’t think clearly, and they feel like they can’t regulate it, or they have to ban it or they have to criminalize it.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Library of Virginia celebrates Black History Month with Panel Discussion on Black Political Activism After Claiming Freedom

Editors of the Library’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography joined this project in 2011 in collaboration with the commonwealth’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission to research and write about the 92 African American men who served in the General Assembly from 1869 to 1890.

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In honor of Black History Month and as part of its 200th anniversary activities, the Library of Virginia will present a panel discussion on Thursday, Feb. 23 to celebrate the completion of a signature project that documents the lives of Virginia’s first Black legislators. Titled “The First Civil Rights: Black Political Activism After Claiming Freedom,” the free panel discussion, offered in partnership with Virginia Humanities, will be held 6-7:30 p.m. in the Library’s Lecture Hall. Advance registration is required at https://lva-virginia.libcal.com/event/10200777.

Editors of the Library’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography joined this project in 2011 in collaboration with the commonwealth’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission to research and write about the 92 African American men who served in the General Assembly from 1869 to 1890. Their stories are now available online as part of Virginia’s collective digital story thanks to a collaboration with Encyclopedia Virginia, a rich online resource sponsored by Virginia Humanities.

Black Members of the Virginia General Assembly, 1887-1888.
Front row, left to right: Alfred W. Harris (Dinwiddie), William W. Evans (Petersburg), Caesar Perkins(Buckingham).
Back row, left to right: John H. Robinson (Elizabeth City), Goodman Brown (Surry), Nathaniel M. Griggs (Prince Edward), William H. Ash (Nottoway), Briton Baskerville Jr. (Mecklenburg).

“We’re proud to celebrate such a meaningful project to document early African American representation in our commonwealth’s legislature,” said Librarian of Virginia Sandra G. Treadway. “We encourage the public to join us at what will be a very insightful discussion examining the contributions of early Black legislators and their enduring legacy today.”

Panelists for the program, moderated by Virginia Humanities executive director Matthew Gibson, will include the Honorable Viola Baskerville, one of the founders of the project; Lauranett Lee, public historian and University of Richmond adjunct assistant professor; Ajena Rogers, supervisory park ranger at the National Park Service’s Maggie L. Walker Historic Site and a descendant of Black legislator James A. Fields; and historian and author Brent Tarter, a retired editor with the Library of Virginia.

For more information on the panel discussion, contact Elizabeth Klaczynski at 804.692.3536 or [email protected]. Learn more about the Library’s anniversary events at www.lva.virginia.gov/200.

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Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k unveils finisher medal, participant shirt, and 10k Spirit Contest for 2023 event

Both the shirt and the medal were designed by Frank Anderson, a 5-time participant of the event and Richmond-based Art Director and Graphic Designer.

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The Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k presented by Kroger unveiled the finisher medal and participant shirt for this year’s event during its annual ‘10k Reveal Day,’ which took place at Ukrop’s Market Hall.

This year’s medal, which all participants will receive after crossing the finish line on April 22, celebrates some of the iconic parts of the 10k course. The unique shape mimics the turnaround and halfway point on the 6.2-mile course, while the sun feature is a nod to spring and mimics the stained-glass architecture elements you might spot along Monument Avenue.

The colorful participant shirt compliments the medal design. The dogwood flower commemorates the gorgeous spring foliage spotted along the entire course. Both the shirt and the medal were designed by Frank Anderson, a 5-time participant of the event and Richmond-based Art Director and Graphic Designer. The 2023 10k takes place on April 22, 2023, and marks the 24th running of the event. Registration for this year’s event is open at www.sportsbackers.org, with a price increase set for February 1.

The 6.2-mile road race returns to Broad Street, Monument Avenue, and Franklin Street. There will be a small change to the course. The turnaround will move back to Chantilly instead of Staples Mill and the finish line will shift from Shafer and Franklin closer to Laurel and Franklin. The Sheehy Post Race Festival will return to Monroe Park for the first time since 2016. Since its creation in 2000, the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k has become one of the largest 10k road races in America, with over 540,000 participants taking part in that time.

“Every year participants look forward to seeing the 10k medal and shirt. We know this year’s will quickly become a fan favorite and we can’t wait to see everyone wearing their new tees post-race,” said Meghan Keogh, Race Director for the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k. “We were thrilled to work with Frank Anderson—it’s great to have a local designer familiar with the event. He was able to capture the spirit of race day in commemorative items that people will enjoy for years to come.”

New this year the Porch Party Contest has been combined with the Community Spirit Contest and will now be called the 10k Spirit Contest presented by The Richmond Experience. The new contest aims to celebrate the groups that famously cheer on 10k participants by awarding superlatives and cash prizes. Judges will select one participating group to receive a Grand Prize of $250. Judges will also select winners for Best Porch Party, Judges Choice, Most Spirited, and Best Theme. The groups selected for each of these superlatives will win $100.

“Year after year, cheerful spectators line the sidelines and median of the race route and are the very reason the 10k is often referred to as ‘Richmond’s biggest block party!’” said Samantha Kanipe, Founder & CEO of The Richmond Experience. “We’re thrilled to shine a light on the groups of people that make event day and the RVA community special and to be part of an event that brings the community together in such a unique way.”

You can find more information on the 10k Spirit Contest presented by The Richmond Experience here.

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House panel kills watered-down GOP bill on retail marijuana sales

In a nod to the political reality that the Virginia General Assembly is unlikely to legalize retail sales of marijuana this session, a Republican lawmaker encouraged his colleagues to just ask the state’s Cannabis Control Authority to start drawing up rules for a retail marketplace that legislators could look at next year.

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By Graham Moomaw

In a nod to the political reality that the Virginia General Assembly is unlikely to legalize retail sales of marijuana this session, a Republican lawmaker encouraged his colleagues to just ask the state’s Cannabis Control Authority to start drawing up rules for a retail marketplace that legislators could look at next year.

Speaking before a GOP-led House of Delegates subcommittee Tuesday night, Del. Keith Hodges, R-Middlesex, said he’s never been a big fan of sanctioning recreational marijuana use. But, he added, Virginia’s refusal to allow retail marijuana sales — while making marijuana legal to grow at home and possess in small amounts — has created public safety risks from unregulated products that are more widely available than ever.

“If we do nothing, we have a problem on our hands,” Hodges said. “And we need to protect the citizens of Virginia from the illicit market.”

Greg Habeeb, a former Republican delegate turned lobbyist who represents the Virginia Cannabis Association, said the watered-down bill should be entirely uncontroversial and something even Gov. Glenn Youngkin could support, despite the administration’s reluctance to get behind legal weed sales.

“All this bill does is says the [Cannabis Control Authority], that you all have propped up and funded, should do its job of advising you guys of what a market could look like next year,” Habeeb said.

The vote on the bill was far from unanimous. It failed 5-2, with Republicans opposing it and Democrats supporting it. The same subcommittee also rejected a different Republican-sponsored bill that would have actually established a retail marijuana market rather than planning how it could be done in the future.

The Democratic-led state Senate is still working on its own marijuana sales bill, but the action in the House Tuesday evening is a strong sign the 2023 session will be another year of deadlock on the issue.

As he made a motion to block the legislation that simply asked the cannabis board to begin drafting rules for how a retail marketplace would function, Del. Chris Runion, R-Rockingham, said the bill didn’t do anything to address illegal or dangerous products currently being sold in Virginia.

“We do have several bills moving forward that address that,” Runion said. “So I think that needs to be our focus.”

Runion did not lay out a case for why the General Assembly can’t pass both bills, moving toward a retail marketplace while also cracking down on largely unregulated products like hemp-derived delta-8, which can still get users high even though it’s technically not marijuana.

The Youngkin administration is backing legislation to impose stricter regulations on businesses that sell those products, with a particular eye toward protecting children from THC-infused edibles that often come in colorful but confusingly labeled packaging.

Because the hemp regulation bills appear to be moving forward in the Senate, there’s still a chance advocates could try to tie the two issues together. The Youngkin administration has pushed back against that approach.

“The decision on whether to legalize retail sales and whether to clean up harmful hemp products hopefully should be considered separately,” Parker Slaybaugh, chief deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry, told lawmakers at a committee hearing.

Numerous representatives from the cannabis industry have insisted the two topics can’t be separated, arguing the state’s problem with unregulated intoxicating products is a direct result of lawmakers’ failure to set up a state-sanctioned market with safer, legal products.

A lobbyist for Jushi, a company that has one of Virginia’s few licenses to sell medical cannabis but also sells recreational products in states that allow them, emphasized that nothing in the scaled-back, one-page Hodges bill would cause any new dispensaries to open.

“We do things incrementally in Virginia,” said Jushi representative Hunter Jamerson. “I think this is that incremental approach.”

The status of two hemp regulation bills in the House was unclear as of Wednesday afternoon, when both were surprisingly voted down 11-9 in the Courts of Justice Committee. The committee is not yet done with its meetings, so the legislation could still be revived for another vote.

Linking the marijuana and hemp bills together could force the two sides to negotiate a deal later in the session. However, it could also raise the possibility of failure on both fronts if Democrats refuse to support standalone hemp legislation and Republicans insist on blocking retail weed sales.

On the Senate side, the major cannabis bills are pending in the Finance and Appropriations Committee, which is set to meet Thursday. At the urging of progressive activists, the Senate marijuana bill was amended to give Virginians incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses an opportunity to have their sentences reconsidered by the courts. Some Democrats have insisted on that provision, which supporters see as a matter of fairness to Black communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition.

The crossover deadline for each chamber to finish work on its own bills is Tuesday.

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