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Legislators have nipped Virginia’s budding cannabis industry, advocates say 

Despite commitments from both major parties to improve on and regulate the marijuana industry, cannabis advocates say the General Assembly has left a flourishing industry in the weeds. 

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By Josephine Walker

Jacob Williamson grows, makes, and sells hemp-based CBD products through his family’s Hens and Hemp farm. He went through the permitting process to be a hemp farmer when it became legal in 2019, but now he is leaving the industry.

“We can’t keep up with the multimillion-dollar cannabis industry coming into the state,” Williamson said. “So, we’re just gonna stop because it’s too much.”

Williamson represents a group of entrepreneurs concerned about the future of the commercial hemp industry in Virginia, because of what they say is the risk and increased regulation of selling these products.

Industrial hemp definition changes

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, introduced Senate Bill 591 which originally focused on the prohibition of cannabis goods that can be easily confused with everyday treats, and that are shaped like a “human, animal, vehicle, or fruit.”

“It would restrict the use of products that appeal to children through gummies,” Hanger said in committee.

The Virginia General Assembly allowed farmers to grow industrial hemp starting in 2019.

Lawmakers passed an amended version of Hanger’s bill, which redefines marijuana as any cannabis product with over .3% THC or .25 milligrams of THC per serving. That includes some non-intoxicating CBD products. The bill, however, excludes industrial hemp that is possessed by a person or company who holds a U.S. Department of Agriculture hemp producer license, as long as the THC level remains under .3%.

It is currently legal to possess, but not sell marijuana in the state of Virginia.

The .3% THC threshold comes from the 2018 Federal Farm bill. Anything over .3% THC is still federally defined as marijuana. In 2018, most marijuana used recreationally contained over 15% THC, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse.

Hemp advocates are upset because they say the bill will limit product sales of items from edibles to salves.

Hanger told a Roanoke Times reporter recently that lawmakers “kind of stirred a hornet’s nest” but there is time to work on the bill before the legislature reconvenes in late April.

“Delta-8” legal loophole

Legislators want to crack down on the sale of Delta-8-THC, which has a similar chemical structure as the main psychoactive compound, or Delta-9, found in marijuana that gets users high. Delta-8 typically comes from hemp-derived CBD, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Many Delta-8 products, which are low in THC, are made in a lab because additional chemicals are needed to increase the amount of THC, according to industry website Cannabis Tech.

The products get people buzzed, but still fall into a legal loophole. And a few adverse reactions to Delta-8 products have been reported to the FDA.

“I recognize there are a lot of legitimate businesses with legitimate products out there that shouldn’t be forced out of the market,” Hanger said. “But I think the broader issue right now is public safety.”

The U.S. Hemp Roundtable, a national advocacy group for hemp cultivators, stated in a press release that it supports regulation for public safety, but that new regulations are too broad.

“Advocates for SB591 provided no scientific basis or public safety justifications for these arbitrary restrictions,” the group stated.

The Virginia Hemp Coalition is an industrial hemp education and advocacy group whose goal is to create new agricultural and manufacturing opportunities for hemp farmers. The group has been involved in campaigns to amend SB 591 and shared a petition that has garnered almost 4,000 signatures. The group also wants Congress to expand the THC threshold to 1% in the next Farm Bill.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service issues hemp permits and tests THC concentrations of hemp plants. The THC levels increase as CBD levels increase in the cannabis plant. Growers run the risk of getting higher THC levels in their cannabis plants in order to get a higher amount of CBD.

Henry Watkins, chief of staff for Sen. Adam Ebbins, D-Alexandria, said hemp growers might see a little more regulatory oversight, more testing and enforcement.

“I think folks who are saying this wasn’t enforced before are really saying ‘no one enforced it on me before,’” Watkins said.

Nipping the budding market

Many stores throughout Virginia since 2019 began selling a variety of CBD-based, low-THC products for a variety of reasons and ailments.

People who want to buy actual, high quantity THC marijuana can easily find it, despite the risk of prosecution. Some sellers offer delivery options and showcase product menus on social media. Many people began operating in those spaces when marijuana possession was decriminalized and in anticipation of the legal recreational market that many thought was greenlit for 2024.

Both parties mostly agreed a legal recreational marijuana market would generate substantial tax revenue for Virginians, but the session ended without lawmakers adopting a framework for sales.

The bill that passed in 2021 needed to be reenacted in the 2022 session, but a House committee continued the bill to the next session next year, effectively killing the reenactment clause and likely the January 2024 start date for recreational sales. The only way marijuana can be obtained legally is if it is grown or gifted, or if an individual has a state-issued medical marijuana card.

David Treccariche sells lab-tested CBD products at his boutique dispensary Skooma in Charlottesville. Hanger’s bill was an “absolute death nail in the coffin” for the industry, he said.

Treccariche said he expected small business owners to be more involved in cannabis policy making.

“They’re [Republicans] theoretically, pro-small business, limited government, limited oversight, limited regulations,” Treccariche said. “He’s a Republican, he should improve small businesses. Why would he shut me down?”

Treccariche’s products have QR codes for consumer protection, with nutrition information and THC concentrations for his products.

Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, is co-owner of a Norfolk shop that sells legal CBD products. Some products sold at the store were over the threshold for allowed THC, according to a report published by the Virginia Mercury. The dispensary could be affected by Hanger’s legislation.

Lucas, who co-patroned the 2021 legislation that decriminalized simple possession of marijuana, voted for Hanger’s original bill but not the final amendment. She did not respond to repeated phone and email requests for comment on the bill.

Michael J. Massie, an attorney and board member of the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, said there is no gray area for selling marijuana products.

 “There is no provision that allows for the legal sales of marijuana at this juncture,” he said. “You sort of put yourself in a very precarious position where you might be prosecuted.”

Marijuana advocate Dylan Bishop, a lobbyist for the Cannabis Business Association of Virginia, argued in a committee hearing that having a legal market allows consumers to verify a product’s authenticity.

The association doesn’t think limiting the definition of hemp or cracking down on low THC levels in CBD products is the best course. Instead, they suggested stringent testing and labeling requirements, which advise the consumer of any potential psychoactive effect.

The General Assembly will hold its reconvene session on April 27. Hanger said he is open to suggestions about modifying his bill.

 “Let’s regulate some stuff for safety,” Williamson said. “I can see that. However, they probably didn’t realize how far a little law could change a lot for a bunch of farms.”

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2nd Street Festival Cancelled Grand Master Flash Performing at Hippodrome

Although the festival is cancelled there is a least one show that will go on. Curse you Hurrican Ian, curse you.

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Sad news from Venture Richmond

Venture Richmond Events has made the incredibly difficult decision to cancel the 2nd Street Festival, scheduled for this weekend, Oct. 1-2.

Like many, the Venture Richmond Events team has watched Ian for days, hoping that it would not be the massive and potentially deadly weather event that it clearly is. While we are extremely lucky to be a few states away from the serious issues Florida is facing, we also know that this weekend promises uncertain amounts of rainfall and potential wind gusts for our area. After consulting meteorologists, vendors, contractors, security, and other event planners, and after considering the Governor’s State of Emergency, we concluded to the best of our ability, that the event, if held, would not be safe. We must put the safety of our patrons, artists, vendors, contractors, and staff foremost.

There is good news though – a portion of the party will go on indoors! Our festival headliner, Grandmaster Flash will perform indoors at The Hippodrome theater on 2nd Street in Jackson Ward on Saturday evening. This performance will be FREE and open to the public, but capacity is limited and based upon availability.

2nd Street Festival at The Hipp

A special performance by Grandmaster Flash with an opening band

Saturday, October 1, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Hippodrome Theater, 528 N. 2nd Street

Doors 4:30 p.m.

Free and open to the public with limited capacity and based upon availability.

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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Community

Virginia Pridefest Festing on Brown’s Island

The Truist Main Stage headlining acts include The Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia, Leikeli 47 and Rosé from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

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Pridefest weekend features three amazing events, beginning with Pride After Dark: Animal -the official pre-Pride Party. Get your tickets for Pride After Dark at vapride.org Pridefest is Saturday on Browns Island featuring Leikeli47, Big Freedia, and numerous local performers and is free and open to all. The weekend of festivities will end at Bingo Beer Co. With Snatch’d: a Rainbow Celebration – no ticket required.

Virginia Pride is a program of Diversity Richmond, the LGBTQ Community Center for Central Virginia. A committee of volunteers oversees VA Pride’s efforts to make the Richmond Region a better place for LGBTQ people to live, work and visit.

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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Community

Persons of interest in Jewelry Theft

Friday, September 16, at approximately 1:30 p.m. two individuals entered an open business and stole several pieces of jewelry before leaving the store in an unknown direction.

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From RPD

Richmond Police detectives are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying the individuals in these photos who are persons of interest in a theft that occurred last Friday in the 1300 block of East Cary Street.

Friday, September 16, at approximately 1:30 p.m. two individuals entered an open business and stole several pieces of jewelry before leaving the store in an unknown direction.

The female suspect is approximately 5 foot 7 inches tall, weighing approximately 180 pounds, last seen wearing a black shirt, white pants, black sandals, carrying a black shoulder bag.

The male suspect is approximately 5 foot 7 inches tall, weighing approximately 160 pounds, last seen wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans, brown shoes, black baseball style hat.

Anyone with information about the identity of these individuals are asked to call First Precinct Detective T. Wilson at (804) 646-0672 or Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones also may be used. All Crime Stoppers reporting methods are anonymous.

Will you help support independent, local journalism?

We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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