A Grower Reflects on the State of Marijuana and Hemp in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Anthony Mijares is a small-business owner in Richmond who has dabbled in a few ventures, including restaurants such as Burger Bros., a marketing and signage store called Richmond Signscapes, and more recently, a seed 7,000 square feet. sales dispensary called Old Manchester Hemp Co.

Mijares, like many others, sought to become a cannabis grower after Virginia lawmakers moved to introduce medical use of marijuana in March 2017, expanded it in 2018, decriminalized it in 2020 then legalized it in 2021.

Although the medical industry has seen growth and marijuana retail is expected to begin in 2024, additional legislation is already underway that could dramatically change the industry.

Today in Virginia, adults age 21 and older are permitted to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use. Virginians can also share up to an ounce with another adult 21 or older as long as the exchange is gifted and not sold, grow up to four plants per household, and participate in the Medical Cannabis Program, which allows for buy at dispensaries.

Public consumption, possession, consumption in a motor vehicle, sale or purchase of cannabis or cannabis products outside of said dispensaries is always illegal. Legal retail sales are permitted only through state-licensed dispensaries.

These companies are Cannabist, Columbia Care, GLeaf, RISE, and Jushi. While these big companies dominate medical sales, smaller growers like Mijares are trying to carve out a place in the industry by growing hemp.

Growing hemp in Virginia only requires a license from the state Department of Agriculture. The licensing and regulations for hemp products differ from those for cannabis plants because they contain lower amounts of THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that gets people high.

The next step for cannabis and civil rights campaigners is to push lawmakers to allow small producers such as Mijares to be able to sell products alongside big drug distributors, but the majority of action involving cannabis in the Commonwealth has killed during the regular session of the General Assembly. this year, leaving Mijares and others on the bench while the big companies play ball.

“We’re not going to get it all at once,” Mijares told The Times-Dispatch. “I see it as micro and macro steps. At least we have something now and hopefully adult use products will be available soon.

Before becoming a hemp farmer, Mijares served eight years as a combat medic in the military. Originally from Walton Beach, Florida, Mijares settled in Richmond after multiple tours and sought medical assistance from Veterans Affairs to treat the physical and mental ailments he suffered while serving.

“When you go to the VA, they give you a pill for every problem you have,” Mijares said. “Whether you have trouble sleeping, trouble eating, PTSD, whatever it is, they had a pill for that and they just didn’t work for me.”

It wasn’t until Mijares tried a medicinal hemp product that he received the pain relief he needed. Since then, Mijares has been a strong advocate for the medicinal cannabis industry which has grown exponentially in the Commonwealth as evidenced by the number of people registered to use and purchase medicinal marijuana.

Since medical marijuana was introduced to the Commonwealth, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy issued 47,015 personal medical cannabis licenses from July 2020 to March 2021 – which excludes open applications according to the board’s FOIA officer.

The number of requests has also increased steadily during this 21-month period with an average of 2,709 requests per month, according to data obtained by The Times-Dispatch.

However, in April, Governor Glenn Youngkin signed into law a General Assembly law that removes the requirement for Virginians to register with the state’s Board of Pharmacy in order to be allowed to purchase herbal products. of cannabis from licensed sellers. The law comes into force on July 1.

Patients are still required to register with the state and receive written certification from a health care practitioner to purchase from medical dispensaries. Mijares sells products to registered medical users as well as products that follow state and federal guidelines. Some products such as grinders, rolling papers, and smoking items like vape cartridges can be sold to anyone over 18. Other products are still restricted to users over 21.

To the naked eye, he and the larger distributors appear to offer the same service, but they are very different depending on the state’s regulatory process.

“We get clients who have cancers or other conditions and we’re able to mix and match things more than other companies,” Mijares said. “We really take an open approach.”

Mijares said he hopes to sell both medicinal products and recreational items once Virginia moves forward with legal sales and grants him a business license to do so.

The plants currently grown in his warehouse are now all low-THC and classified as hemp products, but he also hopes to transition into growing premium cannabis.

Businesses interested in doing the same and applying for a business license to sell cannabis can do so in 2023, according to the state’s Cannabis Control Authority.

However, recently the Commonwealth has changed its position on cannabis products and decriminalization.

Youngkin outlined his framework for cracking down on materials containing the substance known as Delta-8 — a material found in cannabis plants that used commercial products and were sold in Virginia dispensaries and are currently unregulated.

As the General Assembly mulls bills to close this industry gap that is gaining popularity with consumers, Youngkin has also proposed amendments to a bill aimed at restricting the potency of synthetic edibles made from from hemp and sold in retail stores.

These changes would create new criminal penalties for people with more than 2 ounces of marijuana, reports The Times-Dispatch.

Mijares said he supports regulating these substances to some degree, but hopes Virginia lawmakers won’t back down on decriminalization legislation.

Cannabis policy pundits and activists are equally optimistic, but differ to some degree on strategy. JM Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, said the organization’s strategy in 2022 is to submit several small bills for passage by the legislature.

“As someone who serves as a political expert to the legislative body that governs us, I will tell you that what we expected and then what happened this year is pretty close to our expectations,” Pedini said. “We advised that important parts of the legislative objectives should be split into separate bills. That is not the decision that caucus made.

Pedini said their organization hopes that leading voices will emerge in the House on cannabis rights at the start of the special session and that for the new cannabis legislation to pass, some compromises may have to take place in a divided caucus, as opposed to a united union. , a democratically controlled state that passed legislation in 2020 and 2021.

“We have to read the play,” Pedini said. “We have to face the reality of the political arena in Virginia and understand that, you know, the time to do all these high-profile, progressive things was 2021. Now you have a divided government.”

As Pedini seeks compromises between lawmakers and legislation, Marijuana Justice Team Executive Director Chelsea Higgs Wise continues to push for the vision set out in 2020 and 2021 – legalizing marijuana with a view to equity that includes small, black and minority. cases and criminal disbarment in the foreground.

“The champions of the 2021 legislation really need to stand firm to be champions of what they’ve come up with rather than changing our tune when we don’t have the leadership,” Higgs Wise said. “We hope there will be lawmakers who answer the call to bring a fairness bill next year, even though they know it will be a long one.

The organization’s administration of Higgs Wise also calls for stopping big cannabis companies from establishing an early market. Instead, Higgs Wise calls on lawmakers to focus on recidivism and family reunification, according to a letter endorsed by 40 like-minded organizations.

Higgs Wise said that if medical operators are able to sell exclusively before small operators, growth opportunities for small business owners will diminish, as will the opportunity to develop a fair market.

“To create a legal market that is fair and provides opportunity for everyone on day one, when these medical operators and these big people can sell (marijuana legally), that means Virginia needs to do the work to allow (the small operator) to also be ready to sell as well,” Higgs Wise said.

As Pedini and Higgs Wise strive to achieve their goals, business owners like Mijares wonder what will happen next.

“At this point, I’m not worried yet. I think Virginia is still going all the way to legalize hemp and cannabis for adults,” Mijares said. “When I started doing this there was a lot of trial and error and I feel like that’s what happens now; trial and error.”

Comments are closed.