2020 has been a banner year for cannabis reform in Virginia, even as nearby Maryland has stalled numerous modest cannabis reforms such as increasing the decriminalization threshold often blaming the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Last week, Virginia opened its first medicinal cannabis dispensary and Virginia’s special legislative session which was framed as a response to cannabis’ role in racial justice continues to push through minor—though still notable—reforms.
Cannabis patients in Virginia can have access to medicinal cannabis as of October 17 when Dharma Pharmaceuticals in Bristol, VA officially opened for business. The opening included banners, information tables, the requisite security walking around Dharma Pharmaceuticals Co-Founder/CEO Shanna Berry, masked-up talking to customers and the local news.
“We are eager to provide a new treatment option to Virginia patients and also provide jobs and economic growth within our community,” Berry said in a press release. “This has been a long process to build out a facility, grow cannabis plants from seed, process and extract the cannabis oils, and finally have product ready for patients. As a lifelong resident of Southwest Virginia, I am thrilled to bring this life-changing medicine to our state and provide much needed jobs in our community.”
Dharma Pharmaceuticals is one of four approved medicinal cannabis dispensaries in Virginia. The other dispensaries set to open up soon are Beyond/Hello in Manassas, Columbia Care in Portsmouth, and Green Leaf in Richmond. Barry has said that Dharma Pharmaceuticals intends to open five more dispensaries and a delivery service.
The opening of a medicinal cannabis dispensary in Virginia has been five years in the making. It was back in 2015 that Virginia legislation approved the modest measure of allowing for “affirmative defense” to be invoked by those who use cannabis to potentially avoid prosecution. This legislation however was the first step towards medicinal cannabis and the law was adjusted and expanded making up what is essentially a medicinal cannabis program.
“Five long years after beginning the legislative process to bring medical cannabis to Virginians, we are thrilled to celebrate the grand opening of the Commonwealth’s first dispensary,”Jenn Michelle Pedini of Virginia National Organization For Reforming Marijuana Laws said in a statement. “This day could not come soon enough for the thousands of Virginians who have been waiting patiently for in-state access to safe, regulated products. Virginia NORML has been on the front lines of this effort every step of the way, and I’m so proud of our members’ tireless work to make this a reality.”
Last week, Virginia governor Ralph Northram also signed into law Senate Bill 5013, which allows Virginians who, now that cannabis is decriminalized in the state, could pay their cannabis possession citations without having to go to court. Still not signed into law are bills The Outlaw Report has focused on quite a bit, Senate Bill 5029 and House Bill 5058, which prevent law enforcement from using the smell of cannabis to search Virginians’ vehicles.
Northam has until Wednesday October 21 to sign SB 5092/HB 5058.