RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has proposed a rewrite of a bill that aimed to ban the recreational sales of intoxicating hemp-derived products, seeking to ensure the continued availability of certain therapeutic CBD formulations.
Youngkin's proposed changes came after hemp industry advocates and parents of patients who benefit from nonintoxicating CBD products pressed him to reconsider the impact of the legislation as it recently passed. Lawmakers will weigh the Republican governor's proposals to amend that measure and dozens of other bills during a one-day session Wednesday.
Youngkin's substitute hemp bill continues "his efforts to crack down on dangerous THC intoxicants, including synthetic products" such as delta-8 THC, a psychoactive chemical often synthesized from hemp-derived CBD, his spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a statement, noting it contains "a narrowly tailored exemption" for therapeutic CBD products.
"Governor Youngkin's substitute takes into account these critically necessary products while going even further to clear store shelves of illegal products responsible for sending children to the hospital," Porter said.
For over a year, Virginia lawmakers have been grappling with how to best regulate sales of vapes, edibles and other products with delta-8, which have soared in popularity nationwide, filling shelves at convenience stores and smoke shops even in places where marijuana isn't legal. It's an issue other states are wrestling with, too.
At times, the products — sometimes sold in packaging that mimics popular snacks — have sickened unsuspecting children and adults.
The original bill aimed to ban intoxicating products by capping the total amount of THC at 2 milligrams per package and 0.3% total THC. It also would have required topical hemp products to have a bittering agent to deter consumption.
While opponents argued it would further complicate Virginia's cannabis laws, supporters of the measure as passed called it a way to address a pressing safety issue. Cannabis-related pediatric emergency department visits have trended upward since late 2020, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. That group and other physician and health care organizations recently urged the governor to sign the measure without amendments.
Youngkin's substitute would remove the bittering agent requirement and allow the 2-milligram THC cap to be exceeded if a product meets a 25:1 CBD to THC ratio. It would also require retailers to register with the state enforcement agency to sell any consumable hemp-derived product, Porter's statement said.
Among the parents pushing Youngkin for changes was Lisa Smith, whose 23-year-old daughter has a life-threatening form of epilepsy.
Smith said her daughter's quality of life improved tremendously from taking a CBD oil purchased from a Colorado-based company. But after the company warned it wouldn't be able to ship her the product if the bill were signed, Smith reached out to her representatives, House Speaker Todd Gilbert, and Youngkin's office and his wife, whom she met at a campaign event. The governor's office called to hear her concerns.
Smith said the bottle she orders for her daughter has 216 milligrams of THC — which would run afoul of the original bill — but so much CBD that there would be no mind-altering effects from drinking the whole thing.
"I'm glad we were heard and it wasn't just signed," said Smith, since reassured by the company that her daughter's product will be available under the amended legislation.
But Sarah O'Hanlon, the mother of another child with epilepsy who has benefited from CBD therapeutics, said families like hers will "absolutely" be impacted in getting access to needed products, even under the amended version.
Representatives for hemp trade associations called Youngkin's version an improvement, but said it still threatens to harm the industry.
Both Greg Habeeb, a lobbyist for the Virginia Cannabis Association, and Jason Amatucci, president of the Virginia Hemp Coalition, said the 25:1 ratio allowance would still require removing some nonintoxicating products from store shelves.
Amatucci said his organization is asking lawmakers to table the bill, which he said would do nothing to address the availability of delta-8 and other products on the black market while limiting consumer choice and killing hemp industry jobs.
Habeeb said it's become clear to the organization he represents that the governor and a majority of the General Assembly want to move this year to ban products like delta-8. While his group would prefer the bill not become law, Youngkin's amended version is the better option, he said.
Neither the bill as passed or as amended by Youngkin would move the state toward establishing a legal marijuana retail market.
The General Assembly, at the time fully controlled by Democrats, legalized marijuana in 2021 without setting up retail sales. Control of the House flipped later that year, and efforts since then to set up retail sales have gone nowhere.
It's currently legal to grow and possess marijuana within limits, and patients can access the drug through the state's medical cannabis program, which wouldn't be impacted by the hemp bill, said one of the bill sponsors, Sen. Emmett Hanger.