Youngkin amendments impact sale of cannabis products, marijuana penalties

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-Governor Glenn Youngkin is amending a bill impacting what cannabis products can be sold in Virginia and possibly setting new misdemeanor penalties for marijuana possession. 

It’s the first time Youngkin is taking a formal stance in some thorny debates: navigating punishments under recreational marijuana legalization and reining in a largely unregulated hemp industry. 

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

So far, the Governor is getting mixed reviews. 

Some say the bill remains overly restrictive and will “re-active The War on Drugs.” 

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

“About 40 percent of our CBD product inventory would’ve been illegal July 1st had the bill passed unamended. This will be very helpful for us and other small businesses in the state,” said Chris Haynie, co-founder of Happy Trees Agricultural Supply.

Those comments come after Governor Youngkin scrapped new proposed per serving and per container limits on THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis. Many in the hemp industry said the caps could’ve forced helpful products off of the shelves. 

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

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

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

“Some manufacturers we did get gummies from will have to change their molds and the shaping of the products, which they don’t seem to mind at all. I think one of the most important parts of this is it will give clarity to businesses operating in this space,” Haynie said. 

Youngkin also wants to set age restrictions for CBD, potentially prohibiting sales to those under 21 years old for the first time. Some stores are already doing that on their own. 

“We’re just trying to stay a step ahead of it because we kind of saw that coming,” said Josiah Ickes, another co-found of Happy Trees.  

Controversially, Youngkin is green-lighting the push to crack down on the cannabis compound Delta-8. The bill bans the retail sale in Virginia, at least for now.

The products are becoming increasingly common in convenience stores and specialty shops due to loopholes in the law, according to legislators. Supporters of the bill say the products are often mislabeled and unsafe for consumers. 

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

“The Commonwealth of Virginia is banning the sale of these products and changing the rules halfway through the game,” McCormick said. “Many of these small businesses and farmers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in these products and the administration is now taking them away from them and giving them over to these giant, multinational corporations.”

Another change proposed by Youngkin could add new misdemeanor penalties for recreational marijuana possession of more than two ounces. Youngkin’s office confirmed the amended bill lays out the following graduated punishments for public possession, not private possession. 

  • More than one ounce to two ounces: $25 dollar fine 
  • Two ounces to six ounces: Class two misdemeanor
  • Six ounces to one pound (sixteen ounces): Class one misdemeanor  
  • More than one pound: Felony with a maximum punishment of ten years in prison and $250,000 fine

Current state law sets a $25 dollar fine for public possession between more than one ounce and one pound. The felony punishment kicks in after that. 

The more gradual escalation proposed by Youngkin was recommended in a presentation last year from the non-partisan Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. JLARC Project Lead Mark Gribbin said this would put Virginia more in line with other states. 

However, the amendment was met with swift push back from multiple advocacy groups. 

“Instead of creating new ways to criminalize Virginians for a legal substance, Governor Youngkin’s administration ought to focus on establishing the retail market for adult-use cannabis, ensuring that 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 really re-activate another generation of this racist War on Drugs here in Virginia,” Wise said.” Youth ages 18 to 24 have always been criminalized the hardest and these new crimes could lead them back to cages, rather than receiving care.” 

The General Assembly still needs to approve Youngkin’s amendments in a reconvened session scheduled for April 27. 

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