Recreational Marijuana Gets Resistance in Virginia
The Planning Commission in Bristol, Virginia recently announced a plan to study a series of measures it may wish to take to regulate cannabis sales within the town’s borders. Specifically, the measures may govern the location of cannabis dispensaries in the town, with an eye on amending city zoning ordinances so that the planning commission could limit cannabis businesses to certain zoning districts within the town.
This is in keeping with similar measures recently passed in other Virginia towns, including Danville and Portsmouth, as the state and towns like Bristol prepare for the transition to legalized adult-use recreational cannabis sales in 2024. Such measures will only address adult-use facilities and will not affect those with a medical marijuana card.
Bristol was the location of the Commonwealth’s first dispensary (later relocated to Abingdon) after Dharma Pharmaceuticals was awarded the Southwest district in which to run its cannabis processing enterprise. While the state defined protocols for cannabis at the regional level, local controls such as the ones currently under consideration in Bristol were left to local leaders.
Working within the 5 Health Service Areas for Cannabis
Currently, any medical dispensary business operating within Virginia must be run by one of four state-approved processors associated with a “health service area,” or HSA, defined by the state. When the state authorized the use of medical marijuana, governing officials defined five HSAs in total in which dispensaries could operate.
HSA I includes the Shenandoah region in the Northwest. This region remains without a processor for the time being after conditional approval given to MadMen was rescinded earlier this year.
HSA II oversees Northern Virginia next to DC and Maryland, including major metropolitan areas such as Fairfax, Arlington, and Tyson’s Corner.
HSA III in Southwest Virginia includes Bristol, as well as neighboring communities Blacksburg, Danville, Lynchburg, and Roanoke. The initial location of the Southwest dispensary was located within Bristol at the former Bristol Mall before it was relocated by the HSA III processor, Dharma Pharmaceuticals, to a site in nearby Abingdon, about 20 miles northeast. A locally-owned enterprise, Dharma was acquired by national processor, Green Thumb for an estimated 80 million dollars this summer, but will continue to operate its Virginia facility under the Dharma name.
HSA IV includes the state capitol of Richmond and its surrounding areas, and is overseen by GLeaf Medical. HSA V includes the Eastern Shore and coastal regions in the southeastern edge of the state.
A Response to Recreational Sales
Why this move now in Bristol? According to city officials, these steps by the city planning committee are in response to the potential enactment of legal recreational sales in 2024. According to one Bristol city planner, there are concerns that recreational use could lead to the unregulated expansion of current medical dispensaries. Recreational use businesses could also pop up in any non-residential area in the town, since there is currently no zoning language on the books related to cannabis sales. By defining clear zoning regulations for cannabis businesses, the town hopes to limit the spread of recreational use stores that could infringe on public buildings such as schools.
The legalization of recreational use passed the Virginia legislation earlier this year but must be ratified in the next legislative session. Additionally, recreational use is on an extended timeline and will not be up and running until 2024. Bristol’s move is part of an ongoing trend in the Commonwealth in the years running up to full legalization of recreational use marijuana.
Under the current laws overseeing adult-use cannabis, any licensed medical marijuana operator in the Commonwealth could obtain multiple licenses for adult-use sales, provided they pay a one million dollar fee to two equity funds established by the state. The processors would also need to submit plans to the state demonstrating that their adult-use enterprises will focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
As of this writing, no business has applied for a business license to operate an adult-use dispensary within Bristol’s borders. According to town officials, a single business has made inquiries but taken no steps to further the process. In the meantime, the town wishes only to prepare for any eventual adult-use business; medical marijuana sales will remain unrestricted in the town borders.
Get Your VA Marijuana Card Now!
Whatever happens with adult-use sales in Bristol or beyond, medical marijuana will remain the safest and easiest way to access cannabis for approved medical conditions in Virginia. Getting your card and accessing medical cannabis at a medical dispensary gives you a reliable way to enjoy vetted, quality products.
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