Last week, while many state governments were dealing with the ins and outs of the COVID-19 response, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia took time out to do something positive that was not directly involving the coronavirus.
To benefit solely the citizens of Virginia, he signed SB918 into law, along with 16 other cannabis related bills to improve the medical cannabis program. The 16 other bills did things like decriminalize the possession of cannabis and legalized the medical cannabis program to protect those participating in it, preventing any arrest, prosecution, or denial of rights. Governor Northam also recommended a number of technical amendments before the bill goes into effect in July.
But one of the star achievements of this years legislature, which reconvenes later to complete the session, was SB918, sponsored by Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax), to help uplift and regulate the budding industrial hemp industry in Virginia and offer legitimacy to the CBD market and approve it as food ingredient. This steps around the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, which makes it illegal to add CBD or any hemp products to food or market them as a dietary supplement.
That left it up to the FDA to approve CBD for human consumptions as a food, but that approval has yet to come, even though many states, including Alabama, Colorado and Maine have already approved the growing, distributing and processing of hemp.
Along with the approval for food, SB918 regulates the facility conditions and requirements for production of hemp-derived products intended for human consumption. It also allows the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) to regulate and enforce standards for hemp extract, identify contaminants for consumer safety, establish labeling requirements and set up the protocol for CBD batch testing.
It is important to note that this new law will only apply to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and only concerns products meant to be produced and consumed in Virginia and therefore prohibited from interstate commerce, since the FDA has yet to recognize CBD as a safe food ingredient.
“We can’t have inferior products coming in from other states,” said Sen. Marsden. “We are going to try to do a good job with this stuff and it is up to VDACS to make sure other states don’t ruin our market with crap.” Virginia hoped to hold other states to raise their standards and offer regulation to match theirs.
In fact, after last year’s first public hearing on CBD by the FDA, it released a update which stated that they would not give a “Generally Regarded As Safe “or GRAS, status or approve products that contain it. They continue to issue warning letters to companies improperly using CBD or making unverified health claims.
Before the COVID crisis took over the priorities of the legislature, Congress had been pushing FDA to adopt rules classifying and regulating food products containing CBD. Last year, about 26 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote then-acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, urging the agency to quickly adopt policy and consider issuing an interim final rule to regulate CBD as a food additive.
One other issue with federal law is the percent of THC in the hemp, since federal definition set the standard by definition at .3%, which for many farmers is difficult to maintain, since CBD levels of 12% or even as high as 16% are the most desirable, and that CBD amount increases while the plant is still growing. Early harvest may keep the THC low, but it also cramps to potential to have higher CBD levels.
Charlotte Wright, a hemp farmer based in Brunswick County and owner of the CBD business Hemp Queenz, noted, “If we go over the limit, we have wasted all of our time and money. It is ridiculous to argue over seven-tenths of a percent when any hemp farmer can easily grow a crop that is under 1% total THC. You can’t easily grow a crop that is under 0.3%.”
To that end, Northam had added to the bill, “The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall, by November 1, 2020, report to the Chairmen of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources regarding recommended legislative or regulatory amendments necessary to allow a registered industrial hemp grower to grow industrial hemp with a tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of no greater 81 than one percent.”
Currently, any hemp grown with a THC level of over .3% must be destroyed.
During the 2019 growing season, approximately 1,200 registered industrial hemp growers planted around 2,200 acres of hemp in Virginia, according to Erin Williams, VDACS senior policy analyst. As of April 10, there were 1,280 active industrial hemp grower registrations, 357 processor and 219 dealer registrations.
A few things are certain. Virginia has shown leadership and forward thinking in this approach to Hemp-derived CBD products and hopefully, after this corona virus pandemic has retreated, the “New Normal” will include a revitalized CBD industry and the economy seeks new ways to recover, and things will change for the better.
ACS Laboratory is the largest ISO/IEC 17025:2017 accredited, DEA registered, CLIA certified hemp/CBD and cannabis testing facility in the Eastern United States. It is a clinical-grade operation that has been continuously refining testing methods for 10+ years. The team at ACS Laboratory is committed to elevating the hemp and cannabis industry by providing a reliable, consistent source of testing.
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