Jun 3, 2022 - News

Virginia lawmakers OK sales of synthetic THC products

Illustration of a marijuana leaf shown in the negative space of many leaves.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Virginia lawmakers gave a big green light to manufacturers and retailers of lab-made THC products like Delta-8 this week.

Why it matters: Virginia has yet to agree on a path toward a legal recreational marijuana market, but the change will allow widespread sales of hemp-based products that produce the same intoxicating high.

  • "We are legalizing retail marijuana. Straight up. It's just that we're going to call it hemp," Del. Dawn Adams, a Richmond Democrat who opposed the change, said Wednesday on the House floor.

State of play: The lab-made products — mostly edibles and vape cartridges — are already being sold in specialty shops and more adventurous convenience stores.

  • But the synthetic THC market has been operating in a legal gray area in Virginia.
  • The industry has insisted the products are legal, while state regulators disagreed but never pursued any enforcement action.

The latest: Language included in the state budget passed Wednesday eliminates ambiguity surrounding the products by implementing modest regulations and lab-testing requirements.

  • The decision effectively means THC products created in a lab from hemp will be legal to sell, while naturally occurring THC from marijuana plants will remain illegal to sell.

Context: Virginia lawmakers legalized possession of marijuana in 2021, but they are stuck in a stalemate over retail sales.

  • That means people caught selling traditional marijuana products can still face felony charges.
  • And lawmakers just approved new misdemeanor penalties for people caught with more than four ounces of marijuana in public.

What they're saying: The hemp industry pitched the change as a way to help Virginia farmers, an argument some typically pot-averse GOP lawmakers found persuasive.

  • "It adequately addresses the legitimate public safety concern over irresponsibly packaged and labeled products without unfairly disadvantaging Virginia's farmers, retailers and small businesses," Dylan Bishop, who represents the Cannabis Business Association of Virginia, told Axios.

Yes, but: Some lawmakers worried that their fellow members of the General Assembly didn't realize they were essentially condoning the open sale of THC products without the strict licensing and oversight that has generally accompanied recreational marijuana markets in other states.

Be smart: By definition, hemp is a cannabis plant with extremely low levels of THC in it.

  • But the plant contains other cannabinoids, namely CBD, that processors have learned they can extract and convert into THC later.

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