CannabizVA is pleased to offer this encore presentation of our 3rd Annual Legislative Panel featuring Del. Steve Heretick and Virginia Sen. Adam Ebbin discussing their upcoming proposed adult use recreational marijuana legislation and Erin Williams, Regulatory Coordinator & Policy Analyst in VDACS Office of Policy, Planning, and Research, which oversees Virginia’s Industrial Hemp Program.
Governor says, “The time has come to legalize marijuana in our Commonwealth, and Virginia will get this right.”
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The announcement comes as the Northam Administration prepares to release a report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana, which was compiled with robust input from government officials, policy experts, healthcare professionals, and community leaders.
“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” said Governor Northam. “Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to be the first state in the South to take this step, and we will lead with a focus on equity, public health, and public safety. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right.”
The Northam Administration is working closely with lawmakers to finalize legislation in advance of the 2021 General Assembly session. Today, Governor Northam made clear that any legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana will need to address the following five principles.
- Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition has historically been based in discrimination, and the impact of criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities as result. A report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) issued today found that Black Virginians are arrested and convicted for marijuana use at more than three times the rate of white Virginians. Legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.
- Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities.
- Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Governor Northam will require any legislation include protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns.
- Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator.
- Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity.
In 2020, Governor Northam signed legislation that decriminalized simple marijuana possession in Virginia. The legislation also required the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security to convene a Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group to study the impact on the Commonwealth of legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana and report the recommendations of the work group to the General Assembly and the Governor by November 30, 2020.
[URGENT] The USDA is seeking comments on proposed changes to the USDA’s industrial hemp program, which, as of November 1, will govern Virginia’s hemp industry! You can do so here: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=AMS-SC-19-0042-4666
Please submit your comments to the USDA by midnight tonight (10/8)! CannaBizVA’s official comments are below, which we would encourage you to copy in paste as the basis of your comments.
CannaBizVA was established nearly one year ago to advocate for the expansion of Virginia’s regulated cannabis industries, including industrial hemp and pharmaceutical marijuana. With this mission in mind, the CannaBizVA Board adopted the following goals for its inaugural General Assembly session:
- Introduce CannaBizVA and its mission to the General Assembly, the Northam Administration, and its regulatory agencies, namely the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (“VDACS”) and the Board of Pharmacy (“BOP”);
- Promote commerce and business opportunities within Virginia’s regulated markets; and
- Protect consumers without placing undue burdens on Virginia businesses.
Across the board, CannaBizVA found success. The association also seized additional opportunities to promote Virginia’s cannabis industries, stymied legislation threatening our growers, and teamed up with long-standing agribusiness groups to further CannaBizVA’s realm of influence – all of which are detailed below.
Introducing CannaBizVA to the Commonwealth
CannaBizVA quickly established its bona fides with legislators and agency officials alike. Its December 5 Legislative Summit played host to two legislators (Del. Steve Heretick and Sen. Dave Marsden, Chair and Vice Chair of the Virginia Cannabis Caucus, respectively), an agency head (Dr. David Brown, Department of Health Professions), and over 100 members of the public. CannaBizVA found early success engaging the state’s regulatory agencies as well.
Not only did CannaBizVA submit public comments to VDACS and BOP in the months leading up to session, but both agencies sought CannaBizVA’s feedback on every cannabis-related bill filed this year. Additionally, CannaBizVA established relationships with the Northam Administration by way of Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Bettina Ring, and her Deputy Secretary, Bradley Copenhaver.
In October, Secretary Ring sat down with CannaBizVA’s lobbying team to discuss our members’ concerns over inconsistencies in law and regulatory guidance regarding smokable hemp. This conversation spurred the Northam Administration to have Del. Danny Marshall introduce HB962, which be CannaBizVA’s biggest success of the year.
HB962, which CannaBizVA supported, clarifies that it is legal to produce, sell, and consume hemp products (i.e., flower) intended for smoking. VDACS guidance had previously taken a contrary position, which threatened the largest and most profitable retail market for industrial hemp in Virginia. The bill also made clear that hemp intended for smoking is considered a “hemp product” as opposed to “industrial hemp,” which requires a registration to possess or sell. Thanks to CannaBizVA’s advocacy, legislators understood that this measure would bring market certainty to growers, retailers, and consumers alike and passed the bill with overwhelming support.
CannaBizVA also worked with Virginia’s pharmaceutical processors to pass HB1670 to develop a new market for Virginia’s industrial hemp growers and dealers. The bill allows pharmaceutical processors to acquire industrial hemp grown and processed in Virginia to formulate medical grade products.
Finally, CannaBizVA worked to fend off proposals detrimental to the cannabis trade, such as HB1317. The measure sought to prohibit anyone from growing hemp within 100 yards of a residential area and would require hemp farmers to perform costly odor mitigation. Naturally, CannaBizVA pointed out that many hemp growers are in residential areas and that the bill would do nothing but stifle a burgeoning industry. As a result, the bill was defeated.
Looking forward, CannaBizVA plans to work with study groups established by the legislature to expand the business opportunities for Virginians, in particular, in both the industrial hemp and pharmaceutical processers. HB491 directs VDACS to study the opportunities for development and manufacturing in the industrial hemp industry. And, HB347 directs the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to convene a work group to review the Commonwealth’s medical cannabis program, including (i) the expansion of the medical cannabis program to additional licensees and (ii) the medical use of cannabis flowers, and to report its legislative recommendations to the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Chairmen of the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions and the Senate Committee on Education and Health no later than October 1, 2020.
CannaBizVA is proud of a successful inaugural General Assembly session. CannaBizVA plans to leverage its successes into an ambitious membership campaign this “off season,” so it can continue to expand and promote Virginia’s cannabis industries.
This week, CannaBizVA finds new markets for Virginia’s hemp farmers and helps broker a deal to expand medical cannabis in Virginia. See below for details and a full report.
HB 1670 would allow Virginia’s pharmaceutical processors to buy industrial hemp from registered Virginia growers and processers, providing another well-needed market for our products. CannaBizVA fought off opposition in committee this week and helped usher this bill to a 100-0 vote on the House floor today! Video of committee testimony attached below.
HB 347, which would double the number of pharmaceutical processors in the state and allow for numerous satellite dispensaries, will not take effect this year. Instead, this concept will be studied in the off-season. However, we worked with the Patron and the processors to strike a deal: the Commonwealth will double the number of pharmaceutical processors in Virginia in 2021, assuming we can get a bill through in the 2021 session that would allow for the sale and use of medical grade flower in the state. The Board of Pharmacy would go through a brand new round of applications to effect this compromise. CannaBizVA was the only non-processor privy to this information!
The most important piece of information from this week at the General Assembly was that HB347 reported out of its subcommittee 5-0. This legislation would double the number of medical cannabis providers from 5 to 10. The bill would also allow each provider to have 2 off-site dispensing facilities. It will move along in the legislative process to be heard by the full House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee next week.
Hemp and marijuana bills were heard in various subcommittees and committees for the first time this week. CannaBizVA was present at each of these hearings and testified either in favor or in opposition to certain key bills in line with the legislative agenda approved by our Board.
As you probably heard in the news, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Criminal Law Subcommittee reported SB2, a bill that decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana, to the full Committee, where it will likely be heard in the next week or two. While this bill certainly excited the press, it has minimal impact to cannabis-related business interests in Virginia.
More importantly, however, the House Agriculture Committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee heard seven hemp-related bills Wednesday the 22nd. CannaBizVA testified in favor of HB491, which requires the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority to develop and report a marketing plan for industrial by November 30th of this year. The bill reported out of the subcommittee with unanimous support.
Similarly, CannaBizVA backed the Northam Administration’s proposal (HB1430) that would approve industrial hemp extract as an approved food in Virginia. This, too, passed with unanimous support.
CannaBizVA, along with other agri-business groups, spoke in opposition to HB1317, which would’ve prohibited hemp farmers from growing within 100 yards of a residential area, and successfully had the bill defeated by a 4-3 vote. There was also a bill (HB943) that would require hemp growers test for THC after harvest. Because of the feedback our lobbying team received from CannaBizVA members with concerns over this bill, CannaBizVA spoke against the measure and the bill was defeated unanimously.
And, finally, the bill (HB1566) that sought to raise the maximum THC allowance to 1% was carried over to the 2021 session with the concession that VDACS study the issue more closely in the offseason. The reason the bill did not pass is because VDACS testified that the USDA had denied the state industrial hemp plans for states that had enacted similar legislation. The bill was carried over in hopes that USDA might change course by this time next year.
A full reporting on all the bills we are watching for CannaBizVA is attached below.
The Virginia General Assembly convened Wednesday, January 8, and is scheduled to be in session until March 7. Over 2,500 bills have been filed to date, and another thousand are likely to drop before the filing deadline this coming Friday, January 17. Attached, you will find a full list of the bills that have been filed thus far that are germane to CannaBizVA’s mission. Click below to download.
Virginia’s hemp industry has secured the support of Virginia’s entire Congressional delegation with regard to the USDA’s interim final rule governing the commercial production of hemp. Specifically, every single Congressman and woman signed a letter urging USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to reconsider certain elements of the sampling and testing standards of the interim final rule. In summary, they recommended:
- Taking a calculated-risk and hazard approach to sampling and testing, as opposed to requiring that every single crop be tested;
- Extending the testing timeline to 30 days before harvest, as opposed to 15;
- Allowing testing to be conducted at independent testing labs (in addition to DEA registered labs);
- Raising the maximum THC allowance from 0.5% to the highest possible level USDA can muster; and
- Adding mediation options so that farmers acting in good faith who accidentally exceeded the threshold can resolve the issue without fear of criminal prosecution.
Please feel free to use this letter as your exemplar when submitting comments to the USDA if you haven’t already. You can submit comments HERE.