2020 General Assembly Recap: CannaBizVA Finds Success in Inaugural Session

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:

  1. 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”);
  2. Promote commerce and business opportunities within Virginia’s regulated markets; and
  3. 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.

Legislative Accomplishments

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.