Virginia bill SB 591, introduced by Emmett W. Hanger Jr., modifies the definition of marijuana to include any substance containing 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is typically how much hemp, cannabidiol (CBD) and Delta-8 contain. The current limit is anything higher than 0.3%. Marijuana, on the other hand, contains 5%-35% of THC and causes intoxicating psychoactive effects.
According to Healthline.com, hemp and CBD are non-intoxicating, meaning a user doesn’t get “high” from their use as one may from marijuana or cannabis; rather, many users report more subtle feelings, such as relief from anxiety, depression, inflammation and a general feeling of relaxation. Delta-8, however, does cause psychoactive effects, possibly exposing users to much higher levels of THC than what’s naturally found in hemp cannabis plants, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Virginia Hemp Coalition (VHC), founded in 2012, is a “grassroots driven advocacy organization whose goal is to educate, inspire and rally Virginians to restore the free market for Industrial Hemp, a low-THC oilseed and fiber crop, a variety of Cannabis,” as said on its website. Jason Amatucci, president of the VHC, said the organization has been involved in working on bills and legislation, such as the 2014 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp research and broke the stigma around hemp while educating about it.
Amatucci said he’s disappointed that people are still not supportive of hemp after all the efforts that have been put in place.
“There’s been a lot of education over the years, but folks still haven’t gotten it,” Amatucci said. “It feels like we’re having to do this all over again.”
Amatucci said he hopes people will get there one day, but there are still many uphill battles to fight.
“Education is the key, but there’s still a lot of willful ignorance out there,” Amatucci said. “Folks just don’t want to understand this.”
He said SB 591 is “terrible” and people should be ashamed that they let it get to the governor’s desk.
“You don’t just pass something and just criminalize the entire hemp industry,” Amatucci said. “We have people saying that we’re making more out of this than there is, but that’s far from the truth; it’s actually worse than we’re saying it is.”
Amatucci said he believes the ones proposing this bill have no right to throw the entire hemp industry under the bus, and there’s no process to verify these values.
“We have a lot we should be dealing with right now instead of this,” Amatucci said. “We need to look to the future, and not go back with hemp.”
Additionally, Amatucci said the philosophy of prohibition has failed and that it’s an ignorant position. He said he believes the free market works for beer, wine and tobacco, and the government should allow farmers and businesses to decide these things for themselves. He said the intoxicating Delta-8 should be regulated separately from the non-intoxicating hemp and CBD and thinks they should still be sold in stores, even if they have to go to an ABC Store model, similar to how alcohol is.
Amatucci also called for Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to visit hemp and Delta-8 farms in the area so he can see what’s going on in the industry.
“He should come and see what’s going on here to see that it’s not some ‘scary thing,’” Amatucci said. “It can be made, and it can be made right, with standards. All these policymakers want to vilify this plant when in reality, they should be celebrating it.”
Tanner Johnson (’15) is the co-owner of Pure Shenandoah which began in 2015 in Elkton and a member on the board of the VHC. Pure Shenandoah is a vertically integrated business in the hemp industry, meaning it grows, cultivates, processes, packages and sells the products, along with a wide variety of other things. Johnson said the team controls the entire process of their business, allowing them to have better products in terms of traceability and safety.
“We’ve been able to provide great medicine for a wide range of customers, from the younger 25-year-olds who’re looking to smoke some CBD to relax and unwind, to the 75-year-old ladies who want topical ailments,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Pure Shenandoah is the only cannabis company in the Virginia’s Finest program, meaning they’ve met quality standards within their industry.
“A lot of people believe cannabis needs to be held to a very high standard, which is true for all products,” Johnson said, “but I feel that cannabis in particular is held under a microscope in ways other products aren’t.”
Johnson said hemp and marijuana are very distinct, with the former having no psychoactive effects. He said he believes hemp has been illegal for so long that scientists have been unable to research the plant in ways they’d like, and since the arrival of the Farm Bill in 2015, the science is now catching up and studies are being done to back up that science.
“A lot of people understand all the medical values, but right now, for instance, the FDA is not going to let you make any single claim, even though customers report these specific effects,” Johnson said, “but it makes sense because of how the plant has been criminalized for so long.”
Customers of Pure Shenandoah have been pleased with the effects of the hemp and often call to report success, Johnson said.
He said he believes SB 591 is a detrimental bill, to the point where he had a meeting with the Youngkin administration, along with the VHC.
In the meeting, Johnson said they got down to the “nitty gritty” and explained how detrimental it would be to thousands of businesses who rely on these products.
“We explained how many businesses would go out, how many customers and employees would get into a very unfortunate situation,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the main thing with the bill is to get psychoactive products like Delta-8 off of store shelves, however, the entire hemp industry was lumped in with it.
“The simple solution that we’ve seen time and time again, is banning products that people want doesn’t work,” Johnson said. “It’s much better to properly regulate and test the products to make sure they are safe and what the consumers want.”
Johnson said he believes there’ll be a good number of amendments to the bill in the next week or two. He said he expects to hear what’s going on paper before the deadline of April 11, though he said he believes the banning of psychoactive products like Delta-8 is likely.
“That’s very tricky because the structure of THC in Virginia is not set up all the way,” Johnson said. “Bill 591 was going to set up a recreational market, so Delta-8 and things in between wouldn’t be a problem at all. People just need a place to buy the medicine they want, and right now, Virginia’s not giving them that opportunity.”
Johnson said the bill will make the lawmakers think they’re getting all the psychoactive products off the market, but in reality, customers will order online and ship them in from other states, like North Carolina.
“They’re really not accomplishing what they’re trying to, and they could solve it all by just getting ahead of everything and setting up a true THC market that the Virginians need and want,” Johnson said.
After acquiring his pharmacy technician license, Javi Alonso, an employee at Shenandoah Hemp Supply, said his job is treated like prescribing medicine. He said people come in with many different problems like arthritis, anxiety and depression, and that people are open about it in order to get help for their ailments.
“It’s not like your stereotypical store where you just come in to get high. That’s not how we focus on things,” Alonso said. “We don’t produce any Delta-8, and specialize only in hemp and CBD.”
Shenandoah Hemp Supply is all local — the business contracts with several farmers and gives them different crops to grow, so they can make a side income. Alonso said the business doesn’t like to have their products on places like gas station shelves and prefers to keep it “boutique style.”
“If this bill were to pass, it would tank the whole company,” Alonso said. “We wouldn’t be able to sell anything but our T-shirts, and even those have hemp in them.”
Shenandoah Hemp Supply sells hemp-infused T-shirts, which use a hemp-cotton mix, as well as hemp masks made by a local seamstress. Alonso said hemp is an antimicrobial and smells much better when compared to sweat on a cotton shirt. The business even makes and sells mold-resistant cornhole bags that can be left in the rain.
“There are many weird little applications of hemp other than ingesting that people can use,” Alonso said. “This new bill just doesn’t make any sense.”
Alonso then mentioned hemp plastic — made from the stalk of the hemp plant — which is stronger than petroleum plastic and biodegradable, unlike our current plastic which creates waste. He said it’s surprising that all these different markets haven’t been fully explored.
“I like to compare it to how the Native Americans used every part of the buffalo without wasting a single part of it, from bone to fur,” Alonso said. “We use every part from the stalk to bud to flower. You can use the whole entire plant.”