The General Assembly failed to find a way to start selling recreational marijuana this year, but a law Outlining tougher rules for retailers selling what one lawmaker described as “juiced” synthetic products made its way through the legislature last week with bipartisan support.
The statement, which Gov. Glenn Youngkin is now pending, specifically bans the sale of any substance containing more than 0.3 percent, or 0.25 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 manufacturers claim is legal.
“This product is dangerous because people don’t understand the implications and the safety issues,” said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, who introduced the legislation.
Since personal possession and home-growing of marijuana became legal in the Commonwealth last year, but not commercial recreational sale of the drug, currently restricted to licensed medicinal dispensaries, has resulted in a variety of products that may or may not be sold in retail outlets will. 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 a supposedly legal delta-8 counterpart. The row this year between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democrat-controlled Senate failed to resolve the issue of legalizing recreational sales.
“Each year, the language is ultimately getting closer to what we need to support consumer safety and ensure consumer protection,” said Michelle Peace, a professor of forensic sciences at VCU, who has conducted reviews of retail marijuana products sold in stores to be sold in Virginia. “I don’t think the bill will address absolutely everything we need to address in terms of cannabis regulation, but I think it brings us closer.”
When it was introduced, Hangers SB 591 attempted to limit the appeal of retail marijuana products to children by banning depictions of people, animals, vehicles, and fruit. But the law was expanded to bring the unregulated market under control.
To close the loopholes when a new compound hits the market, it’s imperative for legislation to give state agencies flexibility in the existing regulatory framework, Peace said, describing Delta-8’s popularity as an ongoing problem that comes with scientific advances would persist.
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 entire hemp industry under the bus.” Amatucci agreed with the regulation, which will regulate the attractiveness of products to children, but said the limits set are so low that they would criminalize most products.
“This bill does nothing to actually solve the problem,” Amatucci said. “It’s actually just detrimental to Virginia’s current law-abiding hemp industry, which produces high-quality products.”
At the federal level, Delta-8 remains due to a gap in the Agricultural accounts 2018 which regulated the delta-9 THC content in hemp — legalized a 0.3 percent standard that reflects the law passed by the General Assembly — but made no mention of delta-8.
“All politicians celebrate alcohol and everyone loves it,” Amatucci said. “But once you have cannabis or someone is intoxicated with cannabis, anyone in that state goes insane. They can’t think straight and feel like they can’t regulate it or need to ban or criminalize it.”
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