While Virginia lawmakers work out a timeline for the launch of recreational cannabis sales, the state’s medical weed program continues to grow at a steady clip.
Over the last six months, the number of people signed up for a medical cannabis card in the commonwealth has more than doubled — from 15,076 registered patients in early March to 32,950 as of October 4. The Virginia Board of Pharmacy, which started accepting patient registrations in August of 2019, told The Outlaw Report it now receives between 1,000 and 1,200 applications every week.
And those numbers are poised for even more growth: In September, the Board of Pharmacy gave final approval to medical dispensaries to sell cannabis flower, which studies show is still by far the preferred cannabis product type among U.S. consumers. Previously, Virginia cultivators could only sell cannabis that was processed into a non-herbal form, such as an oil or tincture.
But wide-ranging cannabis reforms enacted on July 1 authorized the production and sale of cannabis flower for medical operators. Cardholding Virginians can now purchase cannabis flower at any of the state’s four licensed medical dispensaries, located in Abingdon, Portsmouth, Manassas and Richmond.
The July 1 laws also legalized the use, possession, and home cultivation of the plant for recreational purposes, but retail sales aren’t set to begin until more than two years from now in 2024. Until then, Virginians have only two ways to legally obtain pot: grow it themselves — a lengthy process that can take up to eight months — or buy it at a licensed medical dispensary.
With retail sales still largely up in the air (the General Assembly needs to re-enact some provisions of legalization next year) and legalization now in effect, it’s likely that more Virginians will turn to the state’s medical program to purchase cannabis.
The program has room for growth: In neighboring Maryland, a state with a comparable population, more than 140,000 patients are now registered for medical cannabis cards. As of this year, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) had approved licenses for more than 100 medical cannabis dispensaries, 17 growers and 17 processors.
Maryland netted more than $500 million in cannabis sales between April 2020 and April 2021. That’s compared to just $9 million to $11 million in projected sales for Virginia in 2021.
Adding to the industry’s growth potential is that some Virginia lawmakers are considering speeding up retail sales by fast-tracking medical operators into the forthcoming recreational program. That proposal was outlined in August at the inaugural meeting of the General Assembly’s Cannabis Oversight Commission, but was sharply criticized by advocates who argued it would give medical operators an unfair headstart on other licensees.