“Virginia’s new hemp law is a harmful piece of legislation that will devastate small businesses, interstate hemp commerce, and patient access and care.”
By Travis Lane, Northern Virginia Hemp and Agriculture.
It’s not every day you find yourself suing a state in federal court alongside your grandmother. But we’re doing it in Virginia to defend the burgeoning hemp industry and those who rely on it, and our first hearing in the case is coming up on Friday.
On July 1, SB 903 went into effect, tying the hands of thousands of Virginia residents who rely on hemp for their livelihoods or pain relief. While federal law defines hemp as any part of the cannabis plant with no more than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC concentration, Virginia law contrastingly now defines hemp products and industrial hemp extracts more broadly, including anything with a total THC concentration of up to 0.3 percent, including all THC variants, not just delta-9. In addition, SB 903 restricts the total THC per package to 2 milligrams.
The Virginia law is at odds with federal law and hurts established businesses and consumers who rely on these products for pain relief, including myself and my family members. Accordingly, here are three reasons my company, Northern Virginia Hemp and Agriculture, and my 83-year-old grandmother, Rose Lane, are two plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Virginia.
1. Virginia Hemp Business Owners Face Devastating Economic Implications
The defendants argue SB 903 will help to create a more regulated and safe hemp market. Consumer safety is essential, with many hemp operators, farmers and retailers open to embracing more stringent safety and regulatory measures. However, this method seems directly created to devastate small hemp businesses and farmers to prioritize large operators. Some economic reports estimate the law will wipe out 80 percent of the current hemp retail industry in the Commonwealth of Virginia, paving the way for state medical marijuana operators to dominate the Virginia market.
Additionally, the law’s strict THC limits will force many small businesses to close their doors, as they will not be able to sell their products legally. Furthermore, the law’s high fines could cause cease-operations for even more small businesses. As state Sen. Jeremy McPike (D) pointed out, a business retailer unwittingly out of compliance could be fined up to $300,000 monthly.
2. The Commonwealth of Virginia Interferes with Future Interstate Hemp Commerce
The Commonwealth argues that SB 903 is consistent with the federal 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp production with a THC content of up to 0.3 percent. Other states disagree, however.
Last year, a California federal appeals court ruled that delta-8 products are legal under the Farm Bill. The three judges on the panel wrote that Congress should fix its mistake if it didn’t mean to legalize delta-8. Correspondingly, our lawsuit alleges that the federal government has exclusive authority to set the THC limit for legal hemp and its products, and states cannot interfere with the market for those products. SB 903 regulatorily overreaches in establishing a different hemp law than the federal one, making it difficult for businesses to operate in multiple states and causing market interference.
In addition, agriculture is the Commonwealth’s largest private industry. The Commonwealth deprioritizes its longest-running industry by denying them broader national market participation in a booming sector. For the approximately 4,200 people currently employed by the Virginia hemp industry, this law has wholly destabilized the $161 million in taxable income they cycle into the Commonwealth’s economy yearly, with many operators eyeing friendlier states for business.
3. Virginia Patient Access, Safety and Care Are Deprioritized
The defendants contend that SB 903 is necessary to protect patients from the harms of high-THC hemp products and that patients will still have access to CBD products through Big Cannabis’s medical marijuana dispensaries.
Many rural communities do not have access to medical marijuana dispensaries, and hemp products are often the only source of CBD for these patients. This is particularly alarming because overdose deaths in the Commonwealth have increased at an annual rate of 3.24 percent over the last three years, hitting rural areas hardest. Meanwhile, CBD and other cannabinoids restricted significantly by SB 903 show promise as potential treatments for addiction disorders.
Consequentially, patient safety is compromised by lack of access, as many consumers will turn to the illicit market to meet their needs for treating various indications.
My grandmother and fellow lawsuit plaintiff Rose Lane consumes hemp-derived gummies daily to manage pain in her hands and feet from arthritis and lung inflammation from pleurisy. Her easy-to-manage daily regimen enables her to stay mobile by targeting her specific conditions. While gray market cannabis businesses flourish in the capitol building’s backyard, the Commonwealth instead focuses on decreasing open, affordable patient access for people like my grandmother and punishing small, hardworking businesses.
Protect VA’s Hemp Industry and Consumers with Your Vote
Virginia’s new hemp law is a harmful piece of legislation that will devastate small businesses, interstate hemp commerce, and patient access and care. The law is unnecessary, counterproductive, and should be repealed.
If you are a Virginia resident, I urge you to support your local businesses that champion the hemp industry and vote for candidates who will work to counter this deleterious law. All 140 House and Senate seats are up for election in November. Together, we can make the Commonwealth a leader in the hemp industry and ensure that all Virginians have access to the safe and effective products they need.
Travis Lane is the co-founder of Northern Virginia Hemp and Agriculture.