Beyond/Hello, one of only four companies licensed to sell cannabis in Virginia, says it’s gearing up to open four new dispensaries in the commonwealth over the next year.
All four locations will be in Northern Virginia. One of them, located along Richmond Highway in Alexandria, could start serving patients “within two to four weeks,” Beyond/Hello’s Chief Commercial Director Trent Woloveck told The Outlaw Report.
Meanwhile, another aims to open before Labor Day in Fairfax, and the remaining two are only a bit further off. The Arlington dispensary, which is moving into a space on the popular Wilson Boulevard drag of the Clarendon neighborhood, should open by the end of this year, and the Woodbridge location will follow shortly after in early 2023.
The company, owned by Jushi Holdings, a Florida-based weed firm that operates in seven states, already runs a dispensary and processing facility in Manassas, along with a Sterling shop that opened late last year. That means Beyond/Hello could soon be running six dispensaries in Virginia’s Health Service Area II – the legal limit for an HSA in Virginia.
Woloveck said the decision to quickly expand stems from the company’s belief that Virginia has a robust market for cannabis and a promising medical program that has grown every year since sales launched in 2019.
“We are building for the continued future and the expansion of cannabis in the Commonwealth,” Woloveck said. “We were very comfortable with the [medical cannabis] program that was in place back when we purchased the license, and we’ve seen incremental improvements every year for the last several years on the medical side.”
Though Virginia’s plan to launch an adult-use market for weed has suffered many setbacks since the state legalized recreational use last year, regulations and restrictions around medical cannabis sales are slowly but surely loosening up.
As of July 1, Virginia patients no longer need to register with the commonwealth to buy cannabis from a medical dispensary. That may seem like a small procedural change, but it’s likely to give medical weed operators a big boost by speeding up what used to be a months-long process to start purchasing weed.
Patients no longer have to go through the Board of Pharmacy’s wonky website to register, pay a $50 fee, and wait for a medical card. They also won’t need to go through the process all over again when their note from a registered doctor expires after one year.
“It was a big bottleneck that is no longer in place,” Woloveck said. “Patients are now able to go see their registered practitioner, get their recommendation, and come into our store pretty much all in the same day.”
For Woloveck and others in the industry, that’s a sure sign Virginia’s medical weed market is about to get white hot.
And it has plenty of room to grow. In April, before the new regulations kicked in, Virginia only had about 47,000 registered medical cannabis patients, or around 0.5% of the state’s population. That percentage is far lower than in almost every other U.S. state, including in neighboring Maryland, where medical cannabis patients account for 2.5% of residents.
Woloveck estimates that by the end of the year, about 1% of Virginia’s population – or around 86,000 residents – will be signed up for medical cannabis. He predicts Virginia will eventually catch up with Maryland, reaching a registration rate of 2.5% or roughly 210,000 patients.
Of course, Beyond/Hello dispensaries can only sell medical cannabis for now. State lawmakers failed to create infrastructure for retail weed during this year’s legislative session, meaning recreational sales are still at least 18 months away.
But Woloveck isn’t mad about that. He said the General Assembly was “extremely responsible” for not rushing a bill to create a framework for recreational weed, noting that pushing back will give lawmakers and the governor “a little bit more time, a little more understanding to put the right program in place.”
However, delaying retail sales has a wrinkle for medical operators. The bill that ultimately failed in the General Assembly would have given medical dispensaries a head start on the recreational market by giving them an early green light to transition to retail sales. That provision could still be on the table, though what happens next at the legislature remains to be seen.
Regardless, Woloveck said Beyond/Hello’s expansion was never contingent on recreational sales starting any earlier than the current set date of Jan. 1, 2024.
“[Our expansion] is not related to an adult-use program,” he said. “We have been building out and have been picking six [medicial cannabis dispensary] locations well before adult-use was even a conversation in the state of Virginia.”
Even so, he conceded Beyond/Hello hopes to be in a position to serve both medical and recreational users if and when legislation comes to pass. In the meantime, the company is bullish when it comes to medical weed in Virginia.
“We [feel] really good about the economics that are going to play out in the commonwealth,” said Woloveck.