RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration is trying to stop the sale of some potentially unsafe cannabis products.
Youngkin is asking lawmakers for more resources to bolster enforcement in his proposed budget, which will set the tone for debate in the 2023 session. Meanwhile, state officials say existing efforts to expand oversight have not resulted in any criminal penalties or lost permits to date.
Sarah Grant, general manager of “THE Dispensary” in Richmond, said state inspectors have stopped by three times since lawmakers took steps to enhance oversight last summer. They were asked to voluntarily remove all of their hemp-derived Delta-8 and Delta-10 edibles, which account for at least 40 percent of sales, according to Grant.
“We would at least have to cut staff and then we would have to look at closing our doors,” Grant said.
Grant says Delta-8 and Delta-10 are found naturally in small amounts in hemp, which is legal to sell. But a lack of regulation has allowed potentially unsafe synthetics with inaccurate labels to proliferate, according to some experts.
Grant said they’re currently defending the safety and legality of their products through an administrative hearing, which state officials described as an informal fact-finding conference.
“I’m frustrated because I believe the state is doing the right thing. Again, these products do need some kind of regulation so that consumers are getting a safe and effective product. At the same time, the way the state is going about this has been very confusing,” Grant said. “We want to do the right thing but we don’t quite know exactly what they’re looking for and how they want us to move forward or what repercussions would be if we do not comply.”
Since new budget language enhancing enforcement resources took effect July 1, 2022, food safety staff with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have performed more than 5,300 visits to ensure compliance with the law, according to VDACS spokesperson Mike Wallace. He said less than 7 percent of those vendors appeared to be selling illegal products.
“While the majority of these firms voluntarily removed the food products in question from sale, several firms remain out of compliance with the law,” Wallace said in an email.
Wallace said, after an informal fact-finding conference, VDACS can revoke a store’s permit to operate and refer the matter to a Commonwealth Attorney if all other attempts to achieve compliance have been exhausted. The maximum penalty for non-compliance under Virginia law is a Class 1 Misdemeanor, according to press release.
Wallace said no cases have been escalated so far but 12 entities are currently involved in administrative hearings.
Governor Youngkin’s proposed budget includes more than $2.1 million dollars, along with 15 new positions within VDACS, to better address potentially dangerous products in the retail marketplace, according to Wallace.
Youngkin is also proposing new funding for the Office of the Attorney General to hire five “cannabis consumer protection enforcement investigators.”
It comes after Attorney General Jason Miyares vowed to crack down on cannabis products that look like common snacks and candy that appeal to children.
Victoria LaCivita, a spokesperson for Miyares, said the OAG has been “aggressively investigating and enforcing” the new provisions of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. She said the process begins with a warning letter.
“If they do not change their practices, our office would notify the business of our intent to sue, which could lead to fines. So far, businesses have been cooperating,” LaCivita said.
Anthony Mijares, owner of Manchester Hemp in Richmond, said his CBD products have not been impacted by the changes. He said they stopped selling Delta-8 years ago.
“We slowly started to realize that these products have not been on the market very long and people were getting sick. We just decided to stick with our mission of offering CBD products that we grow,” Mijares said.
Mijares said the lack of retail marijuana sales in Virginia is contributing to the explosion of unsafe, untested products. Virginia lawmakers legalized adult possession and home cultivation in small amounts in 2021 but the debate over a commercial market continues. The General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday, Jan. 11.
“If you go to a lot of states that have legalized cannabis for retail sales, you don’t have these issues with synthetics. There is a system for testing and knowing what is in your products,” Mijares said. “I feel the focus should be more on retail sales of cannabis, rather than the focus on synthetic products.”
Youngkin’s office declined an interview request, as did VDACS.