Virginia lawmakers approved cannabis legalization last year, allowing the possession of small amounts of it, however, the sale, manufacture and trafficking of marijuana remain a felony.
With the black and gray market for retail marijuana exploding in Virginia following legalization, mislabeled products and presence of a controlled substance in products became an issue.
According to Virginia Mercury, the Lucky Charms cereal bars for sale at Sen. Louise Lucas' Cannabis Outlet in Portsmouth fall into both of those categories.
For starters, the marshmallow treat contains delta-9 THC, which is illegal to sell in Virginia and the label overstates the product's potency, suggesting it contained 600 milligrams of THC instead of just under 30 milligrams, as the lab tests showed.
Customers Are Suffering
Unfortunately, the customers are getting the raw end of the marshmallow stick. They have little to no assurance regarding the quality and content of the mostly-synthetic THC products that are sold in gas stations, health food stores, and dedicated retail outlets like the one co-owned by Sen. Lucas.
"What concerns me is that people don't know what they're taking," said Michelle Peace, a forensic science professor at VCU who is known nationwide her research in the field. "The products are not quality tested, but consumers are trusting they are made in a sanitary environment and that the label is accurate."
When asked about the incident in a brief interview at the Capitol last week, Lucas, who presides over the Virginia Senate as president pro tempore of the chamber, said that she sells hemp and CBD products.
However, Peace, who analyzed two samples from the senator's store on behalf of the Mercury, said that the products from Lucas'store correspond to the broader market.
In fact, according to an independent review of 66 products purchased in other stores around the state, also conducted by Peace, all but one were inaccurately labeled. Collected by advocacy group Virginians for Safe Cannabis, the produces came from Northern Virginia, Richmond, Hampton Roads and Roanoke.
Peace presented the research to the General Assembly on Tuesday, emphasizing that consumers can't safely dose the drugs because of the inaccurate labeling and inconsistency among products.
Cannabis Products Sold "Out Of Control"
While state lawmakers are actively debating how to legalize cannabis sales, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' spokesman said products are being so widely sold already and that nothing can be done about it.
"Given the proliferation of delta-8 THC products in the retail marketplace, the agency does not currently have the enforcement resources to effectively remove all products under the agency's jurisdiction from retail establishments," said Michael Wallace, an agency spokesman in an email.
Similarly, Virginia's law enforcement agencies are closing their eyes to the fact that the issue is growing.
"Enforcement of marijuana never was a high priority," said John Jones, Virginia Sheriff's Association director. "Now, given public sentiment, lack of resources, and a complicated law, I think law enforcement are focusing on enforcement issues that folks care about."
Police Chief DeWitt Cooper from the small town of Galax said that the situation has "gotten out of control."
"We can't police every gas station," he said. "Because they're selling it as hemp, we can't say otherwise unless we start buying all this stuff and testing it."
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