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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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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.

Business

Greater Richmond Convention Center marks 20 years serving region

Since 2003, the complex has hosted a total of 7,034 conventions, consumer shows, sports tournaments, and other events, bringing millions of people and dollars to the region.

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Virginia’s largest meeting and exhibition venue celebrates two decades of welcoming events and visitors to the Richmond Region this year. The Greater Richmond Convention Center officially opened on February 28, 2003, as cheerleaders from across the country flipped in the American National Cheer and Dance Championships in the building’s exhibit hall.

Since then, the GRCC has hosted a total of 7,034 conventions, consumer shows, sports tournaments and other events bringing millions of people and dollars to the region.

The GRCC replaced the 62,000-square-foot Richmond Center, which opened in 1986. Stretching across a six-block area, the 700,000 square-foot GRCC incorporates some of the steel and pillars from the original facility.

Construction for the project began in 1999 and was supported by a $10 million investment from former Governor George Allen and the regionwide transient lodging tax.

“It is the best example of regional cooperation in the history of this whole area,” said late Lt. Gov. John H. Hager during a 2002 press conference.

The Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority – a political subdivision of Virginia with representation from the city of Richmond, Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties – oversaw the financing, development and construction of the GRCC. The Authority’s 25th anniversary is this year.

We’re immensely proud of the legacy and the positive impact the Greater Richmond Convention Center has had on tourism,” said Lincoln Saunders, City of Richmond Chief Administrative Officer and Chair of the Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority. “Millions of people are introduced to the Richmond Region through events and competitions that are hosted at the facility every year. These visitors support our economy by shopping at our small businesses, eating at restaurants and visiting attractions.”

To examine the viability of the GRCC, regional leaders commissioned a feasibility study by C.H. Johnson Consulting in 1999. The researchers projected hotel tax collections to reach $30 million by fiscal year 2020. Hotel tax collection revenues reached $30 million by fiscal year 2019.

Throughout the GRCC expansion phases, groups were welcomed to the region to use completed portions of the building. About 1,200 women from the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were the first to use the facility’s new ballroom during a three-day conference in May 2001.

When the GRCC was officially completed in 2003, Richmond Region Tourism had booked 18 conventions through 2008.

Interest and bookings have experienced a dramatic uptick over the years. During its last fiscal year, the GRCC hosted over 180 events.

From USA Fencing tournaments and ice dancing competitions to offshore wind conferences and comic conventions, the GRCC has hosted various large-scale events since it opened.

“The convention center is a shining example of regional collaboration,” said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism. “The success of the convention center demonstrates how investing in tourism results in positive economic development for our entire region. Richmond Region Tourism and its partners are committed to working alongside our community to continue tourism’s positive momentum.”

The GRCC went through extensive upgrades to modernize the facility in 2020.

GRCC’s technological and cosmetic improvements include new LED lighting and RGB color lighting, monitors, digital signage, and a new digital sound system.  Its interior spaces were updated with new tile, accents, paint scheme, and pub-style tables and seating. The facility also features a new executive lounge and a renovated food court and service desk.

Today the GRCC features 178,159 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, a 30,550 square foot grand ballroom, and 50,000 sq. ft. of additional meeting room space.

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Downtown

Animal welfare advocates disappointed bill to declaw cats failed

House Bill 1382 would have made the declawing of cats a $500 civil penalty for the first violation, $1,000 for the second violation and $2,500 for the third or any subsequent violation. The bill failed to advance when it was tabled by a 6-4 vote in a House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources subcommittee.

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By Cassandra Loper

A proposal to outlaw the declawing of cats, a procedure that animal rights advocates call cruel and unnecessary, failed to advance from a House subcommittee last month.

House Bill 1382 would have made cat declawing a $500 civil penalty for the first violation, $1,000 for the second violation and $2,500 for the third or any subsequent violation. The bill was tabled by a 6-4 vote in a House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources subcommittee.

The bill is important because cats’ claws are natural and used for stretching, marking territory, balance and more, according to Molly Armus, Virginia state director of the Humane Society of the United States.

Declawing cats is actually an “incredibly painful procedure,” according to Armus.

“I think it’s up to us, as people who are taking these cats into our homes, to learn more humane and less invasive ways to manage scratching,” Armus said.

An onychectomy, or declawing, is a surgery that includes 10 separate amputations, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. PETA is the largest animal rights organization in the world, according to its website.

Declawing is typically performed for convenience, according to the Animal League Defense Fund. Many people declaw their cats to prevent scratching, its website states.

“Localities around the nation, a couple of states, including our neighbor Maryland, have passed a declawing ban,” said bill sponsor Del. Gwendolyn Gooditis, D-Clarke, in the committee meeting.

New York and Maryland are the only U.S. states that have outlawed declawing. Multiple U.S. cities have passed declawing laws, with the most located in California, according to PETA.

“Declawing cats means, look at your hands, it would be the equivalent of your fingers and your toes being chopped off at the first knuckle,” Gooditis said.

The procedure can cause impaired balance, as much as a person would after losing his or her toes, according to PETA. Declawed cats may have to relearn how to walk.

“It’s a removal of that last bone,” Gooditis said.

Susan Seward, a lobbyist for the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, or VVMA, testified against the bill in the committee meeting. The VVMA strongly opposed the bill, Seward said.

“I think one of the unintended consequences would be setting up a really unpleasant and adversarial relationship between animal control and veterinarians, and that is certainly not a relationship we want to diminish,” Seward said to the committee panel.

Alice Burton, program director for nonprofit animal welfare organization Alley Cat Allies, said the organization was disappointed the bill failed.

Alley Cat Allies mission is to protect and improve the lives of cats. according to its website. The organization operates a trap-neuter-return program to help stabilize the cat population. A cat is transported to a veterinarian, spayed and returned to its original location.

It’s an act of cruelty to declaw cats, according to Burton, who was an animal control officer for 15 years.

“They no longer have their nails as a defense, so their first instinct is to bite,” Burton said. “So all of a sudden they’ve got these bites on their record, which obviously does not bode well for them.”

Declawed cats also struggle to use the litter box because the litter hurts their paws, she said. Many cats who have been declawed will stop using the litter box and soil where they aren’t supposed to, Burton said.

“I would say most of the time these negative effects lead to these cats being surrendered to the shelters or rescue groups,” Burton said. “They would, in most cases, be deemed unadoptable and they would be euthanized.”

There are many other humane options out there, according to Burton.

Humane alternatives to declawing include trimming a cat’s claws regularly, using deterrents such as double-sided tape on furniture, rubber caps for the nails and providing a variety of scratching options, according to Alley Cat Allies.

“We’re not giving up,” Burton said. “We’re going to come back and keep fighting.”

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Community

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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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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