When Virginia started the medical marijuana program and started administering medical marijuana cards to citizens of the Commonwealth, it was done, in part, with the hope that the program would help small entrepreneurs. Various aspects of the legislation focused on this, and many hoped that business opportunities in medical marijuana or the eventual retail space would go to small and minority-owned businesses. How has that played out in reality? Are small cannabis entrepreneurs still accessing opportunities in Va? Read on to find out!
Recreational Marijuana – A Big Market, If and When It Happens
Of course, recreational marijuana will offer a wealth of business opportunities to entrepreneurs, if it ever gets up and rolling! Recreational was slated for a start in 2024, based on the original marijuana legislation. It has gone through a bunch of fits and starts, however, especially since the Youngkin administration came into power in the end of 2021.
The recreational market could yield as much as 30 to 60 million dollars for the Commonwealth once it gets underway. It would also funnel revenues away from the illicit market, which some estimate is the fourth largest in the United States.
Whether or not smaller entrepreneurs will access these opportunities depends on what happens in the Assembly in the sessions to come. The original plan was to funnel some of the opportunities toward minority business owners, in part to ameliorate the inequalities created by the War on Drugs. Some legislators would prefer that not happen; they also want the established processors to take over retail and for revenues that would have gone to equity funds to go back to the state coffers.
Health Service Area I – Still “Crickets”
There is certainly a big opportunity on the horizon for a small entrepreneur in HSA I. This Health Service Area has been without a registered processor of medical marijuana for many months now. Even if a smaller company gets to take over this HSA, which covers much of the Shenandoah, it may eventually go into the hands of a larger conglomerate. That has certainly been the pattern in other HSAs, where smaller entrepreneurs were eventually bought out by larger, multistate companies.
The Lobbyists and Mergers Have Arrived
Of course, nothing swings business interests more dramatically than when the lobbyists arrive or when big companies get even bigger. Columbia Care, already prominent in Virginia, has now merged with Cresco Labs. This merged enterprise will account for 130 retail shops in eight states, making it a great candidate for monopoly down the road.
The cannabis lobbyists have also started waging their influence in the Commonwealth. Lobbyists representing powerful cannabis companies have already started talking with politicians on both sides of the aisle and donations are flowing in from the big cannabis entrepreneurs.
Will small entrepreneurs be able to retain some control of the market in Virginia? Only time will tell!
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