VA hemp bills divide medical associations, industry members

Following the sound of the doorbell, visitors to Reed Anderson’s Goochland home can be greeted by the gentle tail wag of Toby — a 12 year old dog who is living with hermangiosarcoma, a kind of cancer.

Anderson, the co-owner of Kämè Naturals, gives Toby CBD products to help ease his pain.

Anderson, with a farm nearby and some hemp monitored in an upstairs walk-in closet, worries that new legislation could hamper his company  — which creates and sells oils, salves and soaps  — and the overall hemp industry in Virginia.


Reed Anderson of Kämè Naturals checks out his hemp plants for research and development in Goochland County on March 14.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin is likely to sign legislation that passed the General Assembly aimed at creating tighter regulations on hemp products for more consumer protection. (His December budget proposal included a 15-member team to handle hemp registration and inspections of intoxicating products.) Medical industries support the legislation — but some who work in Virginia’s hemp industry do not support all aspects of the bills.

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Under House Bill 2294, sponsored by House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, and Senate Bill 903, sponsored by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, businesses that sell “industrial hemp extract or food containing an industrial hemp extract” are limited by 0.3% THC and two milligrams of THC per package. THC is the chemical found in hemp and cannabis plants that can create the feeling of a high. Though most hemp-derived products do not contain enough THC to produce a high, products containing delta-8, a modified form of THC found in hemp, have been sold in recent years.

“It is important to recognize that existing laws do not adequately prohibit the retail sale of unregulated products with intoxicating levels of THC and other synthetic cannabinoids,” various health care associations wrote in a letter to Youngkin last week. “These bills effectively close a loophole exploited by retail sellers and protect public health.”

Does state legislation go too far?

Following the passage of the 2018 federal Farm Bill, Anderson said, most people in his industry have been operating within federal guidelines. Though Anderson’s company does advertise delta-8 products, for the businesses that do, the federal government has not specified limits on delta-8 as it has for other forms of THC.

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Anderson and others say the new state legislation goes “too far” in regulating their industry.

The proposed cap of 2 milligrams of THC per package — far less than many current products sold, and not specified in federal law— means many products would have to be pulled from shelves until they can be repackaged. Anderson and Graham Redfern, who owns Caroline County-based Redfern Hemp Co., add that the repackaging would cost them.

“A 30-day bottle of CBD full spectrum tincture will now need to be split up into single-day supplies and would also need to drop the milligrams down to meet the 2 milligram requirement per package,” Redfern said.

He said if Senate Bill 903 and House Bill 2294 take effect, businesses won’t be sustainable or people may feel pushed into operating illegally.

“This whole bill is driving people out of business, or into the black market, or out of state and then shipping it back into the state.”

Other components of the bills include more labeling requirements, the addition of bittering agents into topical products (like lotions or lip balms), and fines for businesses found to be in violation.

An uptick in calls to the Blue Ridge Poison Control Center alarmed Hanger, who sponsored Senate Bill 903. His bill followed a series of recommendations from a task force that met last year to study the issue.

With no recreational cannabis market in Virginia, some companies have sold delta-8 products — some of those have been packaged to resemble popular snacks and candies.

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Christopher Holstege, director of the Blue Ridge center, said it has been concerning to see a rise in children patients who had consumed what they thought was just candy. Calls about adverse reactions to delta-8 spiked from 20 calls in 2020 to 256 within the last 12 months.

“The slope is very much increased over the last couple of years,” Holstege said. “Exposed to these products, it certainly highlights the danger to especially very young children, but also some adverse complications that have occurred for adults too.”

Hanger asserts that legislators needed to take action.

“It will be difficult to rein in this industry because many of the bad actors are making lots of money and, to be fair, there are some good products out there that should remain legal,” Hanger said in a recent email.

He added that it’s possible the bills could be tweaked before the legislature reconvenes in April. Hanger explained the tweaks could deal with topical products not meant for consumption, wholesale processors that sell to the medical market, and “questions about how to deal with hemp products being used to treat medical conditions.”

“For the most part, the bill is in good shape and coupled with the additional enforcement positions that the governor included in the introduced budget, we should be able to get the bad products out of the market — without damaging the market for legitimate hemp based products,” Hanger said.

Until then, Anderson said, people in his industry have been “keyboard warriors” in reaching out to legislators.

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Had lawmakers not postponed setting up a legal cannabis market, “none of this would be a problem,” Anderson said.

Court injunction may be sought

After decriminalizing marijuana possession in 2021, the goal of Democrats who then led both chambers of the General Assembly had been to establish a legal recreational market by 2024 — but efforts to create it have failed. While most CBD products don’t produce a high, some customers have turned to delta-8 products if they don’t have medical permission to access marijuana.

What’s more, he and others point to campaign donations from the out-of-state medical marijuana companies that already operate legally in Virginia.

For example, Kilgore, who carried House Bill 2294, received $22,000 from Jushi Inc., which operates dispensaries in Virginia. While a campaign donation doesn’t necessarily mean legislators will act in favor of donors, it can signal potential support.

Amid the failure to set up a legal cannabis market and recent laws targeting hemp, some advocates and entrepreneurs think the legislature is paving the way to create an advantage for medical companies. Redfern of Redfern Hemp Co., points to a Cannabist store (owned by GreenLeaf/Columbia Care) that recently opened on Cary Street in Richmond — across the street from Carytown Tobacco.

Redfern also noted a recent economic impact study. Conducted by Whitney Economics, and backed by members of Virginia’s hemp industry, it notes the nationwide supply chain of the hemp industry and that current sales within hemp businesses in Virginia are estimated to be $1.2 billion with over 4,000 jobs.

While Holstege thinks legislators are “on the right trajectory” with the latest bills, Anderson said there are ways to address consumer protection without overly restricting businesses.

“I think we do need to regulate packaging and testing. Let’s talk about maybe ‘per serving,’ instead of per package. Let’s talk about child safety and labeling,” he said. “We’re on board with all of those things.”

In the meantime, advocates for the hemp market are prepared to seek a court injunction should the governor sign Senate Bill 903 and House Bill 2294 into law as is. A petition is gathering signatures and a GoFundMe is garnering donations to pay for legal representation.

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