An industry group has formed to advance the commercialization of cannabis in Virginia and is seeking to both broaden the number of licensed medical marijuana processors and to allow the use of CBD oil made from hemp to be added to food and supplements.

“We are not advancing the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana. Other groups do that,” said Stephen Baril, legislative council for Cannabis Business Association of Virginia.

Instead, the association is seeking regulations favorable to the cannabis industry that includes industrial hemp, hemp CBD and medical CBD and THC oils.

Virginia tasks two agencies to oversee cannabis products. The Department of Agriculture regulates hemp and its products; the Board of Pharmacy is charged with licensing pharmaceutical processors who can grow and sell products with THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis plants, for medicinal use.

The pharmacy board is adopting regulations to set the framework for growing, processing and selling medical marijuana. The General Assembly in 2017 authorized one processor for each of the state’s five health regions. Sales are expected to begin later this year.

CannaBizVa contends that framework for only five processors was adopted when legal use of the product was limited to an estimated 25,000 people with a form of intractable epilepsy. In 2018, lawmakers expanded the law to allow physicians to certify medical marijuana for treatment of any condition, but did not increase the number of processors. The one selected for the region covering Roanoke is more than two hours away in Bristol.

“To our way of thinking, this has created the opportunity to revisit the organizational structure with the end user, the patient, in mind,” Baril said.

He said the association understands the pharmacy board cannot increase the number of processors without legislative approval. But the group, whose members include industrial hemp and pharmaceutical processors, just formed.

“This was the first opportunity for CannaBizVa to make a statement in a public manner,” he said. The comment submitted on the proposed regulations was copied to members of the General Assembly.

Their next opportunity to make public comments will come Thursday when the Board of Agriculture meets in Richmond.

CannaBizVa plans to ask the board and Commissioner Jewel Bronaugh to reconsider the stance expressed in her letter last week to registered industrial hemp processors. Bronaugh said that since the federal Food and Drug Administration maintains that food and dietary supplements with CBD oil is illegal, Virginia’s Food Safety Program cannot approve the manufacture, distribution or sale of it by Virginia hemp processors.

CannaBizVa President Chris Horton, of Commonwealth Harvest, said the letter is causing confusion among farmers who were getting ready to plant their fields. Without a local market, they will incur transportation costs to ship their product out of state.

Nearly 700 processors have registered to grow hemp in Virginia following the recent farm bill that removed the prohibition for growing it commercially. Horton said many of the growers are tobacco farmers as hemp is grown similarly and can yield a better price than tobacco. Hemp farmers with a CBD oil market can expect about $10,000 to $12,000 an acre profit, he said.

Horton said CBD oils are sold everywhere in Virginia, and consumers have no way to know where the product came from or what it contains.

He said a safer way would be for Virginia to adopt regulations, as other states have, that set standards and require testing.

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