Youngkin Amendments Impact Sale of Cannabis Products, Marijuana Penalties


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Governor Glenn Youngkin is amending a bill regarding cannabis products that can be sold in Virginia and possibly establishing new penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

This is the first time Youngkin has taken a formal stand in some thorny debates: navigating penalties under the legalization of recreational marijuana and reining in a largely unregulated hemp industry.

“We have protected Virginians from potentially harmful synthetically modified substances while preserving the market for currently available regulated CBD products,” Youngkin said in a statement late Monday. “I call on the General Assembly to adopt these changes and enact them quickly so that they can benefit all residents of the Commonwealth.”

So far, The Governor is getting mixed reviews.

Some say the bill remains too restrictive and will “reactivate the war on drugs”.

Meanwhile, at least one store that sells CBD in Richmond is cautiously optimistic.

“About 40% of our inventory of CBD products would have been illegal on July 1 if the bill had passed without amendment. This will be very helpful to us and other small businesses in the state,” said Chris Haynie, co-founder of Happy Trees Agricultural Supply.

The comments come after Governor Youngkin dropped proposed new per-serving and per-container limits for THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. Many in the hemp industry have said the caps could have forced useful products off the shelves.

Youngkin’s amendments were not posted online Tuesday afternoon, leaving some ambiguity about how the administration planned to protect full-spectrum CBD.

Macaulay Porter, a spokesman for Youngkin, said the amendments give a board within the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the authority to set THC limits. She did not respond when asked if the agency plans to do this or if it was included to preserve flexibility.

The underlying bill sponsored by Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) initially sought to ban edibles in certain shapes and colors that may appeal to children.

“Some of the manufacturers that we have sourced erasers from will need to change their molds and the shaping of the products, which doesn’t seem to bother them at all. I think one of the most important parts of this is that it will give clarity to businesses operating in this space,” Haynie said.

Youngkin also wants to set age restrictions for CBD, potentially banning sales to those under 21 for the first time. Some stores are already doing this themselves.

“We’re just trying to stay ahead of the game because we kind of saw it coming,” said Josiah Ickes, another Happy Trees co-founder.

Controversially, Youngkin gives the go-ahead for the crackdown on the cannabis compound Delta-8. The bill bans retail in Virginia, at least for now.

The products are increasingly common in convenience and specialty stores due to loopholes in the law, lawmakers say. Proponents of the bill say the products are often mislabeled and unsafe for consumers.

American Healthy Alternatives Association President JD McCormick says lawmakers should have focused on passing tougher safety standards, including lab testing, child-resistant packaging and requirements marketing, rather than restricting access to products authorized by federal law. He said the Virginia chapter of their organization advocated for these adjustments and they are now urging lawmakers to reject Youngkin’s amendments.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia bans the sale of these products and changes the rules midway through the game,” McCormick said. “A lot of these small businesses and farmers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in these products and the administration is now taking them away and giving them to these giant multinationals.”

Another change proposed by Youngkin could add new criminal penalties for possession of recreational marijuana over two ounces. Youngkin’s office confirmed that the amended bill sets out the following graduated penalties for public possession, not private possession.

  • More than one ounce to two ounces: $25 fine
  • Two ounces to six ounces: misdemeanor class 2
  • Six ounces for a pound (sixteen ounces): Class 1 misdemeanor
  • More than a pound: Crime with a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine

Current state law sets a $25 fine for public possession between more than one ounce and one pound. The punishment for the crime comes into play after that.

The more gradual escalation proposed by Youngkin was recommended last year in a presentation by the nonpartisan Joint Audit and Legislative Review Commission. JLARC project manager Mark Gribbin said it would bring Virginia more in line with other states.

However, the amendment was quickly rejected by several advocacy groups.

“Instead of creating new ways to criminalize Virginians for a legal substance, Governor Youngkin’s administration should focus on establishing the retail market for adult-use cannabis, ensuring products are safe, convenient and affordable,” said Virginia NORML Executive Director JM Pedini. .

Marijuana Justice executive director Chelsea Higgs Wise said the new misdemeanor penalties could criminalize Virginians, especially young adults.

“These new crimes are really reigniting another generation of this racist war on drugs here in Virginia,” Wise said. Young people between the ages of 18 and 24 have always been the hardest criminalized and these new crimes could put them back in cages rather than receiving care.

The General Assembly still has to approve Youngkin’s amendments at a new session scheduled for April 27.

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