Virginia Governor To Ban Delta-8, More Criminal Penalties

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin Photo: Shutterstock

RICHMOND — State Sen. Emmett Hanger said he expects recommendations made by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to Hanger’s marijuana products bill — especially a proposed ban on retail sales of Delta-8 THC products in Virginia by October of this year — will be adopted when the General Assembly reconvenes later this month in its annual veto session

Hanger said Tuesday that the governor’s amendments came out of negotiations between him and the Youngkin administration on putting some more teeth into the legislation. He said they began working on it last week “and we didn’t finish it until yesterday afternoon.”

“I think we’ll be good,” Hanger said when asked about the chances of his legislative colleagues agreeing to the amendments.

Of the seven suggestions the administration placed on the bill, the ones likely to get the most attention are the Delta-8 ban and recommended criminal penalties for people caught with more than two ounces but less than a pound of weed in their possession.

Even though it is present in small amounts in cannabis plants, Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, or Delta-8 THC, comes mostly from hemp products and has been synthesized to produce a high less in intensity than ones from marijuana use. Despite the objections of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration that it is not safe to use, Delta 8 THC is often sold as vaping or edible products.

The ban on sales of Delta-8 THC edible and vaping products was in the original bill that Hanger sponsored in the 2022 legislative session. But as it made its way through the process, it was amended several times, and the final version sent to the governor’s desk did not include the Delta-8 ban.

Through talks with the governor’s office, Hanger said he was able to get the Delta-8 provision back into the bill. Youngkin is asking that Delta-8 sales be prohibited across Virginia by Oct. 1,.

In a statement released by his office, Youngkin said the amendments “protected Virginians from potentially harmful synthetically-modified substances while preserving the market for regulated CBD products currently available.” Youngkin also said they also protect the integrity of the hemp industry, from which ropes and other textiles are made.

The other noteworthy amendment involves the creation of a Class 2 misdemeanor for possession of 2-6 ounces of marijuana, and a Class 1 misdemeanor for possession of more than six ounces but less than a pound. Virginia’s law was revised last year to allow for the private possession of up to one ounce of pot, and decriminalized the possession of between 1-2 ounces as a $25 civil penalty.

Hanger noted that recommendation actually stemmed from a 2021 report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to address penalties for pot possession between 2 ounces and one pound.

News of the proposed penalties brought immediate criticism from social-justice advocates and those pushing for continued reform of the state’s pot laws.

“Our youth’s futures can be severely impacted by these new misdemeanors for possession, from losing access to federal financial aid, public housing, employment opportunities, and so much more,” said Kalia Harris, executive director of Virginia Student Power Network. “We must not legislate new crimes with marijuana possession or other felonies that come with prison time.”

Ashley Shapiro, deputy public defender of Justice Forward Virginia, said her group “stands firmly” against the new penalties.

“The General Assembly failed to pass a bill that would have done just that this year, and yet the governor is attempting to create new crimes with the stroke of a pen, using the threat of a veto of unrelated legislation to circumvent the legislative process,” she said.

Youngkin’s other amendments to the Hanger bill are:

– Prohibiting sale of industrial hemp products that contain more than 0.3% of total THC, both natural and synthesized;
– Raising the minimum age to 21 to buy retail products containing any amount of THC;
– Banning the sale of any industrial hemp products for consumption that come in the shapes of humans, animals, vehicles or fruit;
– Revising the definition of “marijuana: to the current statute; and
– Establishes criteria for the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority’s future regulation of cannabis and industrial hemp product sales.

The legislature reconvenes April 27 in Richmond to consider Youngkin’s vetoes of and amendments to bills it passed earlier this year.