Virginia Lawmakers Approve Smokable Hemp Bill, Need Gov. Signature

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A proposal to allow smokable hemp sales to those aged 21 and over is making its way to the desk of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Sponsored by Del. Daniel Marshall, HB 962 cleared the House of Delegates earlier this month and was approved by the Senate in a 37-3 vote this past week. 

“Over the past year, interest has skyrocketed from local farmers looking to explore possibilities in hemp production,” Marshall said in a statement on Facebook

Marshall represents a Virginia district where farmers have already embraced industrial hemp cultivation: “It has been my honor to use my seat in the House of Delegates to help get this burgeoning industry off of the ground in Virginia,” he said in the same Facebook statement.

Northam has shown support in the past for hemp production. In a statement made in October 2019, he said, “I am committed to pursuing every path that will attract economic prosperity to our rural communities, and hemp production opens up a wealth of opportunity to bring new jobs and new business to Virginia.”

In the past few years, smokable hemp flowers have increased in popularity. Bethany Gomez, who analyzes the hemp industry for Brightfield Group, a Chicago-based cannabis market research firm, told Hemp Industry Daily that it is one of the fastest-growing segments of the CBD market.  

Independent nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts reported that people around the nation typically spend more money on hemp CBD oil than on smokable flower. Hemp CBD pre-roll and raw flower sales hit an estimated $70.6 million in 2019. As a comparison, tinctures, the most successful CBD product category, reached approximately $1 billion in sales in 2019.

Industrial hemp comes from the same species of plant as cannabis. It is non-psychoactive and contains minute traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Typically, users ingest the product for medicinal reasons, such as to ease aches, pains, or stress. The plant can be made into a variety of goods, such as rope, clothing, or food products. Because hemp can smell like and look similar to cannabis products that create highs, some policymakers around the nation have been wary to approve the plant.

Last year, Louisiana and Indiana banned smokable hemp sales, while Texas banned the manufacturing of smokable hemp. A federal court has since halted Indiana’s ban on smokable hemp, ruling it unconstitutional. In 2018, Kentucky banned sales of hemp cigarettes, cigars, whole hemp buds, and ground flowers. Due to these mismatch of laws and regulations concerning smokable hemp, selling the product across state lines has proven to be difficult.

In late January, John Fike, an associate professor with Virginia Tech’s Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, told Virginia Mercury, “I don’t [have] that kind of pie-in-the-sky view that hemp is going to save all our farms and is going to be productive on all farms.” Even so, he added, “It’s likely to be a viable and financially successful enterprise.”

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