Medical cannabis patients in the Shenandoah Valley and northwest Virginia have been underserved for years. It looks like this is going to change.
On Jan. 1, the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority (CCA) assumed regulatory oversight of Virginia’s medical cannabis program from the state’s board of pharmacy. In doing so, the CCA is making Health Service Area 1, which includes the Shenandoah Valley, a priority.
“This area has been underserved for too long because litigation tied up the operation of the license there for several years,” said Jeremy Preiss, acting head and chief officer of regulatory, policy, and external affairs. “The litigation has concluded, and we will prioritize addressing that gap in the medical cannabis program.”
The CCA will issue a “notice of open applications ” (formerly known as a Request for Applications), subject to CCA board approval, to identify a pharmaceutical processor to serve HSA 1.
Pharmaceutical processors are licensed vertically-integrated cannabis companies — “meaning everything from growth through dispensation is done on one site by one company,” according to Virginia NORML. Additional legislation allows each of the five processors to open an additional five dispensaries in their Health Service Area, per the nonprofit’s Virginia medical cannabis FAQs section.
That’s a total of six dispensaries in each health service area which means better access to medical cannabis. But when?
Preiss, who was just in Staunton last week at a workshop, said they really want to work hard to identify a medical cannabis company in the first half of this year for Health Service Area 1. The CCA staff is finalizing the notice of open applications, said Preiss. The CCA’s board will then approve what they’ve drafted at a public board meeting, hopefully at next week’s board meeting, he said.
“After approval, we will publish that for all to see and it will articulate the criteria for an applicant,” said Preiss. “We hope that there will be great interest in applying. We would then review the applicants and determine, on a competitive basis, a winner for that pharmaceutical processor.”
After a competitive review process, the CCA board will issue one applicant a conditional approval, which will give the applicant one year from date of notification to complete all requirements for issuance of a permit. These requirements include the construction or remodeling of a facility, installation of equipment and security, local zoning approval, and employment of a pharmacist-in-charge and other personnel necessary for operation, said Preiss.
“It will come down to who is most suitable and prepared to serve as a pharmaceutical processor.”
The board will not issue a pharmaceutical processor permit until the CCA performs an inspection of the facility to confirm compliance with the granted conditional approval and the relevant laws and regulations.
The CCA hasn’t finalized the amount of time to give people to apply, and the review process will depend on how many applications they get, said Preiss. “But this is a priority at the CCA.”
This means medical cannabis patients have to wait for the CCA to receive the applications and choose the medical cannabis company that will ultimately service northwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. After the choice is made, the company then has up to a year to find a location to grow and cultivate medical marijuana at its main site.
“A lot will depend on how quickly whoever we choose can open their pharmaceutical processor,” said Preiss. The other five dispensaries usually come later, he said.
While this takes time, it is a step in the right direction.
Are you new to the medical marijuana discussion? Here’s what happened in Staunton.
After legalization of medical marijuana passed the Senate 40-0 on Feb. 5, 2018, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy chose five companies to be the first medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. One of those businesses was originally a subsidiary of the llinois-based company PharmaCann called PharmaCann Virginia LLC. They chose Staunton as the location for its facility in a building to be constructed on 3 Industry Way in Green Hills Industrial Park. In May 2019, the company purchased the land for $212,352, according to city records.
It was big news for Staunton.
PharmaCann Virginia LLC was given one year to build the facility and begin growing marijuana for cultivation and processing. The facility needed to be ready to submit for inspection by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy by the end of 2019 in order to receive a permit to open and provide medical cannabis to patients.
Then MedMen Enterprises, Inc., another cannabis company, announced it would be merging with PharmaCann in one of the biggest deals in the marijuana industry. But in October 2019, MedMen announced the $682 million merger was terminated.
While news of one of the biggest medical cannabis acquisitions falling apart spread within the financial and marijuana business sectors, nothing about the failed acquisition causing delays in opening the dispensary in Staunton was communicated. When you drove to the building site, there was nothing there. The site was vacant.
The Illinois-based medical cannabis company PharmaCann Inc. was no longer affiliated with PharmaCann Virginia LLC, now owned by MedMen Enterprises, Inc. In December 2019, as part of a debt settlement package after the merger was terminated, PharmaCann Virginia LLC and its business license for the Staunton facility was sold to MedMen Enterprises for $10.
After MedMen failed inspection, it led to disciplinary action from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. And then MedMen’s PharmaCann Virginia LLC filed a lawsuit in September 2020 against the board of pharmacy in Henrico County Circuit Court.
That’s where it stayed for years until early April 2023 when the board of pharmacy revocation of the license was upheld on appeal. That meant the only course of action for Med Men’s PharmaCann Virginia LLC was to appeal further to the supreme court. They had 30 days to appeal, and they chose not to move forward.
Given the case wasn’t finalized until May 2023, the board of pharmacy felt they didn’t have time to run another competitive process and knew the CCA was going to be taking over as the regulator on Jan. 1, 2024, said Preiss.
The original site in Staunton is not part of the equation anymore.
“Applicants are going to have their own ideas about where to locate their own facilities,” said Preiss. “Where they grow, where they process, where distribute from and where they do retail at that facility. And then they have the ability to open five additional medical dispensaries in Health Service Area 1 for a total of six.”
This means the location for the main processing facility and its additional five dispensaries can be anywhere in Health Service Area 1, which includes Bath, Buena Vista, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg, Manassas Park, Winchester, and the Shenandoah Valley.
With six dispensaries servicing one health area, there’s a reasonable chance one of them might be in the Shenandoah Valley.
Now that you’re caught up, here’s what you can do to get your medicine.
Virginia Cannabis Control Authority assuming regulatory control means patients in northwest Virginia will eventually have better access to their medicine.
“We understand medical cannabis can be a vital source of relief for patients experiencing negative health conditions, so we are committed to making medical cannabis accessible to those who need it,” said Preiss.
In the meantime, medical cannabis patients can get their medicine at one of the other dispensaries in the state. The PDF below is from the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority and provides a list of dispensaries in Virginia.
Those interested in becoming a medical cannabis patient in Virginia must meet the following requirements, according to the CCA:
- Reside in Virginia;
- Be 18 years of age or older;
- Hold a valid government-issued ID; and
- Be certified, upon examination by a licensed practitioner, as having a medical condition that could benefit from the use of cannabis.
If you meet these requirements, you can receive a written or electronic certification from a practitioner to obtain medical cannabis. A patient can bring the written or electronic certification to an authorized medical cannabis dispensary, along with a valid government-issued ID, to purchase medical cannabis products.
For more information on the medical cannabis program, visit cca.virginia.gov/medicalcannabis.