Jul 5, 2022 - News

Virginia regulators say not so fast to synthetic THC

Illustration of a hemp leaf hanging off a rope in a tug of war.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Virginia food safety regulators say they intend to stop the sale of many synthetic THC products that state lawmakers thought they had just legalized.

What’s happening: Last month, the General Assembly appeared to legitimize the already widespread sale of hemp-based THC products like Delta-8.

  • The state budget that legislators passed included language dictating packaging, testing and age restrictions.

Yes, but: Not so fast, says the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Safety.

  • The agency issued a press release on June 30, the evening before the new laws would take effect, warning retailers it still considers Delta-8 and other intoxicating synthetic cannabinoids to be illegal food adulterants.
  • The products produce a similar high as the Delta-9 THC found in marijuana, which is legal to possess but not sell in Virginia.

What they’re saying: The hemp industry, which thought it was in the clear to sell edibles as long as they abided by the new rules, says it was caught totally off guard.

  • “It’s somewhat of a head scratcher,” Dylan Bishop, a lobbyist who represents a coalition of producers and retailers, told Axios.

Between the lines: Delta-8 products that aren’t considered food, namely smokeable and vapeable versions, don’t appear to be impacted by the announcement.

What’s next: It’s still unclear how shops that sell the products will respond. Bishop said it's too soon to tell.

  • Also uncertain is how vigorous the state’s enforcement will be given that regulators have long considered the products illegal but made no effort to limit their sales.
  • The consumer safety agency said it will seek voluntary compliance before referring cases to local prosecutors.

Meanwhile, new laws recriminalizing possession of more than four ounces of marijuana in public went into effect last week.

  • After marijuana was legalized last July, it had been legal to carry up to a pound of marijuana outside of the home. Under the new law, possession of between four ounces and a pound is punishable as a misdemeanor subject to a $500 fine.
  • Supporters of the change said it brings Virginia in line with other states that have legalized the drug.

The other side: Chelsea Higgs Wise, who directs the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, called the change an “invitation for racist policing,” citing past enforcement patterns that disproportionately targeted Black Virginians, including that study that found Black residents are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marina a possession.

  • Virginia NORML, which advocates for marijuana law reform, noted that the law doesn’t differentiate between plant matter, extracts and edibles.
  • The organization warned the latter, say a tray of brownies, can easily weigh more than four ounces.

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