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Seed to Sale | A year after sweeping changes to Virginia's hemp industry, farmers split on future of crop amid marijuana legalization

We spent months talking to farmers and following the growth process of the plant, a year after Virginia laws changed the kinds of hemp products available on shelves. 

SUFFOLK, Va. — On July 1, 2023, a slate of sweeping changes to the hemp industry took effect in Virginia amid a crackdown to better regulate hemp-derived products and consumer goods in the state. 

Hemp, although similar in look to marijuana, tests below 0.3% Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. Because of its lower THC content, hemp-derived products like CBD are often less potent and do not contain as high of a percentage of the psychoactive chemical that gets users "high" from marijuana. 

Despite the hemp law changes, it still remains the sole legal game on the market besides medical marijuana, without a legalized recreational marijuana marketplace. 

What the new laws changed

SB 903, carried by State Sen. Emmett Hanger, created a limit of two milligrams of THC per package. Alternatively, should a product exceed two milligrams of THC per product, it must adhere to a 25:1 CBD ratio.

Tasked to oversee the regulation of those products is the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, who also regulate food safety, inspections, farming oversight, and more. 

Meanwhile, medical marijuana is overseen by the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority (VCCA), which is the regulatory body tasked to regulate recreational marijuana in the event recreational marijuana ever becomes legal in Virginia. 

“There seems to be the beginning trends nationally, of people saying 'Hey this is confusing. For clarity, we need one regulator, one set of rules for one plant.’ That hasn’t taken hold in Virginia, who’s to say if it will? But people think that makes sense, to tackle them together," says Jeremy Preiss, the chief officer of the VCCA. 

Other changes include:

  • Improved labeling directives for topical products not intended for human consumption
  • Civil penalties for selling products without proper registration, or selling products that exceed the limits defined in the bill
  • Makes it unlawful to sell or offer for sale any substance containing a synthetic derivative of THC, like Delta-8

Lilley Still Believes

Like any journey that takes time, it can be hard to see the finish line from the start. 

Over the last five years, Suffolk farmer Jay Lilley has adopted the motto: "another plant another round."

"Farmer I once heard say it’s not different from growing broccoli. Same sort of process, same sort of timing,” he said.

This year marks Lilley's fifth year of growing hemp as a certified hemp cultivator in Virginia. Despite the sweeping changes to Virginia law, laws about the growing of the plant did not go through the same changes, impacting only the retail end of what farmers like Lilley may be able to do with their crop. 

"It’s an interesting sport to try and move forward in. How far you want to go? You go two steps and then back five, especially with the law changes. People invest in things and then they’re no longer valid anymore.”

Lilley has never used his hemp crop to synthetically produce products like Delta-8, but still produces an oil and salve product that must adhere to the new regulations that went into effect one year ago. 

Lilley is optimistic about the state of hemp in Virginia. Without a legalized marijuana marketplace, hemp can still have a space for those who do not have a medical marijuana card. 

But not everyone feels as optimistic about the future of the industry as he does.

"Hemp is dead in Virginia. Cannabis is dead in Virginia," declared Brad Wynne, a Virginia Beach hemp farmer.

For more coverage, tune into 13News Now at 6 p.m. on July 10 for the next part of the four-part series.

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