New legislation signed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has defined hemp extract—including cannabidiol (CBD)—as food, allowing state officials to regulate the industry going forward.
Senate Bill 918, introduced by Sen. David W. Marsden (D-Va.), is designed to help the hemp industry in the state by regulating production requirements and facility conditions.
“This bill was the next step after the 2018 Farm Bill made industrial hemp a legal product,” says Kyle Shreve, executive director of the Virginia Agribusiness Council. “We moved really quickly in Virginia to put the elements of that bill in our state and we passed the Virginia Industrial Hemp Law, creating our registration program for growers, dealers and processors.”
The bill authorizes the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to adopt regulations establishing contaminant tolerances, labeling requirements, and batch testing requirements. Additionally, it requires Bettina Ring, the state’s secretary of agriculture and forestry, to establish a plan for the long-term sustainability of funding for the industrial hemp program by Nov. 1, 2020.
The Need for Regulatory Framework
Federal guidelines on CBD in food has come with a lot of uncertainty. While the 2018 Farm Bill historically allowed hemp and its derivatives to no longer be classified as controlled substances under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, it is illegal to add CBD to food. However, many companies have disregarded this and CBD has popped up in coffer, beer, snacks, and candy.
Nielsen predicts that, by 2025, the U.S. hemp-derived CBD market could be a $6 billion industry when considering legalized sales of food and beverage products containing CBD from hemp.
According to Shreve, there are currently nearly 1,200 registered industrial hemp growers in the state of Virginia; they were responsible for approximately 2,500 acres of hemp in 2019. “One of the things we needed was to continue to foster a market for the industry,” he said. “Due to congressional action in 2019, CBD products started flying into Virginia from outside the Commonwealth, many of which were intended for human consumption. The state did not have a regulatory framework to monitor any of those products at all and the FDA had very little guidance at the federal level.”
So, the current bill dictates that any product in Virginia that is a byproduct of CBD and intended for human consumption will now be regulated and tested for elements such as foreign contaminants.
“We wanted industrial hemp that was intended to be used as a food or diet supplement to be treated like those in the regulatory scale, and so it was very important to our processors and our growers that they had that regulatory certainty and everyone was playing by the same rules,” Shreve said. “To encourage consumer confidence in what they are buying, you need to have proper testing so they know it’s not going to harm them.”
One of the aspects of the bill involves proper labeling, which will help in eliminating any confusion on products.
Shreve notes that a number of processors are looking to invest in Virginia’s hemp industry and many of the state’s growers are interested in expanding their fields and aligning with food and beverage manufacturers because the industry can produce large returns.
Charlotte Wright, a hemp farmer and owner of Brunswick County, Va.-based Hemp Queenz, was pleased the bill was passed as it gives validity to her operations. “As a farmer, there’s a fine line between too much regulation and not enough, but from a consumer standpoint, we need that safety, so I see this as a good thing,” she says. “We stand by our product 100 percent; we know what’s in it, and that can’t be said for some of the products on the market because there is no regulation in a lot of places.”