In late February, the medical cannabis company TheraTrue submitted license applications in Virginia and its current home state of Georgia. The 2-year-old company announced the double license application, a new CEO—Victor E. Mancebo—with ties to the industry, and $50 million in funding commitments.
In Virginia, TheraTrue seeks a Pharmaceutical Processor License in Health Service Area 1 (HSA1), the Northwest region of the Commonwealth, and hopes to set up shop in Staunton. A previous license in Staunton fell through in 2020, leaving HSA1 the only one of Virginia’s five HSAs without an active medical cannabis facility. TheraTrue is a minority-owned organization with an intentionally diverse team, which has particular significance both in the cannabis realm and in the South.
“Cannabis laws in the [U.S.] have disproportionately targeted Blacks and other minorities. Furthermore, so much of this country right here in the South was built on the backs of Blacks providing agricultural labor for crops,” TheraTrue Founder Paul Judge told Outlaw Report.
Judge, who is Black, said medical cannabis is now “one of the most important and valuable agricultural crops ever,” and that the inequity in the industry, “as shown by the lack of Black ownership” is “extremely disappointing.” He added that TheraTrue is “excited to pursue the opportunity to provide medical cannabis products to qualified patients and also serve as an example to the rest of the country of a minority-owned medical cannabis company.”
Judge is an entrepreneur and investor with experience in the technology sector who co-founded multiple companies and owns many patents. He has been on Fortune’s “40 Under 40” list and is a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. The new CEO, Mancebo, is the former head of the medical cannabis company Liberty Health Sciences in Florida. During his two-year tenure there, annual gross revenue increased from $5 million to $54 million. And, “Mr. Mancebo is of Afro-Caribbean origin, thereby aligned with TheraTrue’s mission of diversity in leadership, ownership and team members,” according to a TheraTrue statement.
Shantelle Brown has been tapped to be TheraTrue’s Virginia pharmacist, and TheraTrue states it is building out a diverse local team and has brought on 10 African American investors in the Commonwealth. It hopes to partner with the City of Staunton, Shenandoah Valley Partnership and others to bring medical cannabis to HSA1 and an economic boost to Staunton. Several Virginia universities, including Virginia Commonwealth University and James Madison University, have expressed interest in partnering with TheraTrue on research, Judge told WHSV. According to this outlet, TheraTrue plans to establish itself in Staunton’s Green Hills industrial park.
In 2017, Virginia began to allow in-state production and sales of medical cannabis in its five HSAs. Four areas now have businesses in place, while HSA1 lags behind. In 2020, when the company MedMen, which then held the HSA1 license, asked for an extension of the timeline to launch in Staunton, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy refused. It canceled their license and sent out a new Request for Applications.
Also in 2020, Virginia’s licensed processors were formally permitted to open an additional five satellite dispensaries in each of their areas, for a total of 25 future stores. The current functioning locations include Beyond/ Hello in Manassas, Dharma Pharmaceuticals in Bristol, Green Leaf Medical in Richmond, and Columbia Care in Portsmouth.
During the 2021 Virginia General Assembly, which just wrapped up, legislation to allow the sale of unprocessed flowers or smokable buds within the medical program passed with bipartisan support, and now heads to the desk of largely pro-cannabis Governor Ralph Northam.
Virginia also just voted to legalize recreational cannabis, starting in 2024—a delayed end to prohibition that local advocates point out will simply continue the War on Drugs’ disparate effects on Black and Brown communities for three more years. Northam has until the end of March to approve, amend or veto the bill. According to recent reports, he is considering moving up the legalization start date.
illustration of TheraTrue’s proposed facility in Staunton, Virginia, courtesy TheraTrue