A new law banning intoxicating hemp products in Virginia appears to have had little effect on virtual shelves, where numerous websites peddle products like Faded delta-9 gummies and rainbow-hued delta-8 crispy treats.

State officials say they’ve focused on enforcing the rules for retailers and manufacturers based in Virginia since the law went into effect July 1. But it’s unclear how they might reach operators elsewhere. In the meantime, a representative for a hemp trade group said businesses will file a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction on enforcing the law in the coming weeks.

The sale of hemp products at gas stations and smoke shops flourished after Democratic lawmakers legalized the possession — but not sale — of up to 1 ounce of marijuana in 2021.

This story was reported and written by VPM

While debates about retail sales of cannabis products remain deadlocked, lawmakers from both parties did find consensus on banning the sales of intoxicating hemp products — which also get users high — earlier this year. The products’ manufacturers argue they were legalized in the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, but the new law passed by lawmakers caps the level of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, at levels that won’t get users high.

Lawmakers who backed the bill said the products were completely unregulated, could easily be accessed by children and in some cases, contained irregular dosage and heavy metals. Members of the hemp industry unsuccessfully argued the state should focus on increasing regulations rather than an outright ban, which they said also eliminated products that posed no threats to consumers. They warned the crackdown would ultimately force cannabis users to the illicit market or to out-of-state suppliers whose products would remain unregulated.

A month after the law went into effect, the Virginia Mercury reported the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service had handed down a handful of fines up to $97,500.

But a quick Google search Tuesday yielded hundreds of intoxicating hemp products whose contents are banned under Virginia law. In an unscientific sampling of a dozen websites visited by VPM News, only one — CBDMD.com — prevented shipping products when a user entered a Virginia shipping address. At least one — area52.com — said it may refund customers who place orders to states where the products are banned.

Most of the websites also had only cursory checks on buyers’ age, often asking users to check a box to indicate they are over the age of 18.

VDACS spokesperson Mike Wallace said in an email officials have so far focused on businesses manufacturing or selling edible hemp products that have a physical presence in Virginia, some of which also conducted online sales.

“As inspection and compliance resources are added to the agency, Food and Drink Law enforcement efforts are anticipated to expand to other parties in the distribution chain, to include product manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and online retailers, as resources allow,” Wallace said.

Wallace noted the General Assembly has asked the state’s Cannabis Control Authority to study how other states are dealing with the problem of online sales.

Much of the debate over hemp products has been connected to the unsettled terrain for cannabis sales.

Democrats planned to legalize retail sales in 2022, but lost control of the House of Delegates and executive branch before they could act. While some Republican lawmakers have also gotten behind retail sales, their bills have so far gone nowhere. In February, Gov. Glenn Youngkin declined to commit to recreational sales during his tenure and said his focus was on eliminating the intoxicating hemp products.

In July, a Youngkin administration official said the governor was “not interested” in retail sales.

Jason Amatucci, director of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, said the administration’s approach had failed. He said the hemp industry is in the process of finalizing a federal class-action lawsuit challenging the new law’s legality with the immediate goal of seeking an injunction on its enforcement.

“They basically have put a lot of good folks out of business,” Amatucci said.

States that have created a legalized recreational cannabis sales have reduced demand for dubious online products, according to JM Pedini, development director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and executive director of its Virginia chapter. Pedini took aim at Youngkin for slowing movement on the issue.

“Virginians are frustrated that the Youngkin administration has not only failed to enact the remaining parts of legalization — meaning retail access — but has apparently swung to actively opposing any progress on the issue,” Pedini said in an interview. “This isn't sitting well with voters.”

Youngkin’s office referred VPM News’ hemp and cannabis questions to VDACS.