Hemp industry pushes back on delta-8 crackdown in Virginia

Plans by Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration to clamp down on the sale of certain psychoactive products like delta-8 hit a wall of resistance from the hemp industry during a Thursday meeting of a new task force. Critics of the plan argue the rules were rushed, unenforceable and would trigger legal challenges.

“We wake up one morning and find that we may be breaking the law,” Maurice Robinson, owner of the Greener Things store in Charlottesville, told state officials as part of a new task force on the hemp in Richmond. “And that bothers a lot of us.”

Virginia Department of Agriculture officials have warned that hemp products are untested and potentially unsafe, citing more than 2,300 calls to national poison control centers related to products from January 1, 2021 to February 28. Only one case resulted in the death of a minor, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The first meeting of the task force shed light on the convoluted state laws governing cannabis products. Legal marijuana can only be purchased at a handful of state-licensed medical dispensaries. But products chemically derived from the hemp plant, like those marketed as delta-8 or delta-10, can still get users high and are now widely available in Virginia stores. The names refer to compounds – cannabinoids – found in trace amounts in Cannabis sativa plants. The products are created by chemically converting the cannabidiol found in hemp extracts into delta-8 or delta-10.

A crackdown on certain hemp-based edibles

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Attorney General Jason Miyares announcement last week that the ministry would crack down on sales of certain hemp edibles containing “chemically synthesized” tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.

The announcement cited language in the new state budget as the reason for the change. It did not attempt to regulate smokable products, which fall outside the purview of VDACS.

It’s unclear what will constitute a “synthetically derived” product under the new announcement.

Linda Jackson, director of the state Department of Forensic Science and a member of the Department of Agriculture’s task force, said Thursday that “a lab would have a very difficult — if not impossible — time determining whether the delta- 8 occurred naturally or from a synthetic process.

Other speakers noted that manufacturers are working on ways to synthesize delta-8 and other THC compounds. using yeast — a process that seems to escape the new rules.

Jackson also said the state currently has no way to test for delta-8 or delta-10 intoxication in drivers who appear impaired, but is working on a solution.

Ryan Davis, program manager at the Dairy and Food Department’s office, said the budget provides “a clear mandate” for the department to ensure that products, particularly delta-8, “are no longer made in Virginia”.

“At this point, we’re going to do everything we can to urge everyone to voluntarily comply,” he said. “We will probably, at some point, have to take other measures.”

The FDA argued that delta-8 products laid “serious health risks”. Critics of the products say there is little quality control or long-term research into the substances or regulation of what goes into the products.

Manufacturers, farmers and retailers argue that products are safe if properly regulated. Some say they are reviled in an effort to eliminate competition from the big cannabis companies that run the state’s medical marijuana market. In May, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of California ruled that delta-8 products are federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress. If federal lawmakers had no intention of legalizing delta-8, “then it’s up to Congress to fix its mistake,” the three-judge panel said. wrote in its unanimous decision.

Dylan Bishop, a lobbyist for the Cannabis Business Association of Virginia, was among about two dozen speakers claiming that Virginia’s new rules were not based on state law and claimed the change amounted to policy change overnight.

Bishop noted that lawmakers rejected legislative attempts to explicitly ban delta-8 products.

“To say that this policy change is the product of the legislative process and the recently passed budget is a bit hypocritical,” Bishop said. In an interview with VPM News on Friday, Bishop said he expected the new rules to trigger legal challenges.

Other speakers, like Southwest Virginia hemp processor Kerry McCormick, warned that the move would only cause them to shift their operations to friendlier states.

“I’m about 45 minutes from the Tennessee border,” McCormick said. “About 15 of my jobs are about to be outsourced to Tennessee. It’s going to be on this committee.

But Tom Intorcio, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Virginia, called on the General Assembly to go further and ban smoking products.

“The push to bring these drugs to market puts everyone’s safety at risk,” Intorcio said.

The new state budget created the Hemp Task Force “to analyze and make recommendations” on regulations regarding “the safe and responsible manufacture and sale of industrial hemp extracts,” but did not expressly prohibits the sale of the products. It also set new rules for hemp products containing THC: items cannot be sold to anyone under 21 and must include child-resistant packaging that displays a list of ingredients, as well as lab test results showing THC concentrations.

The budget was broadly interpreted by lawmakers and the hemp industry to legalize the products – at least until the VDACS announcement last week.

The Hemp Task Force will not make new policies on its own. Instead, the budget tasked the group with writing a report with recommendations by Nov. 15. The group includes members from a range of state agencies, boards and departments, but does not include representatives from the hemp industry, leading critics to claim the state. had no interest in engaging with them.

The produce controversy apparently caught the state’s top agriculture official off guard.

“When we took office six months ago, I had no idea this topic of hemp and hemp extracts would be as big a topic as it has become,” the secretary told Agriculture and Forestry, Matt Lohr.

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