How to Open a Dispensary in Virginia

There is no doubt about it; cannabis is taking the country by storm. Since Colorado legalized recreational cannabis in 2013, most U.S. states have followed suit in some capacity. As of early 2021, 15 states have legalized adult-use cannabis, while 36 states have enacted medical programs. Recently, Virginia followed suit by launching a medical cannabis industry and voting to legalize adult-use cannabis. 

Virginia has long since been a stronghold of traditional American values. As one of the nation's oldest states, Virginia is highly influential. As waves of legalization continue to wash across the country, Virginia is also the first southern state to vote to legalize adult-use cannabis. With so much cannabis activity happening within Virginia, it feels like a harbinger of things to come for national legalization. 

While news surrounding Virginia's cannabis legalization efforts is doubtlessly exciting, this new marketplace's business climate is still largely unknown. To this end, hopeful entrepreneurs and inventors are mainly left to guess what the adult-use market will look like.

If you are interested in opening a cannabis dispensary in Virginia, be sure to do your homework and stay up-to-speed with the latest business news. While the Virginia government did vote to legalize adult-use cannabis, this vote has not yet become law. Even more, the soonest the state will see a legal recreational market would be 2024.

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The Current Virginia Cannabis Market

The state of Virginia officially launched its medical cannabis industry in July 2020. Interestingly, legalization came about after an extended licensing program in 2018, where five licenses were awarded. This initial legislation dealt with licensing for both doctors and dispensaries. As of early 2021, Virginia has four medical dispensaries operational within the state. The current model allows for these license holders (plus one company that hasn't yet launched) to open five more dispensaries each. 

As seen with other medical cannabis markets, the medical industry in Virginia borrows many of its rules, regulations, and structures from the pharmaceutical space. The Virginia Board of Pharmacy oversees the Virginia medical cannabis industry. For those who did not know, state boards of pharmacy are organizations comprised of pharmacists, doctors, and specialists who develop and protect public health measures. These organizations operate individually within specific states. 

The Virginia Board of Pharmacy is in charge of managing rules, regulations, and licenses for the medical cannabis industry. To illustrate, the Board mandates that medical dispensaries have "a ratio of one pharmacist for every six pharmacy interns, technicians, and technician trainees for pharmaceutical processors." These in-house pharmacists are critical decision-makers within Virginia's dispensaries. 

Anyone interested in doing business in the Virginia cannabis industry must pay careful attention to the Virginia Board of Pharmacy and the rules they set forth for applications, licensing, and operating.

The Future Virginia Cannabis Market

In an amazing turn of events, Virginia voted to legalize adult-use cannabis within nine months of launching its medical industry. In February 2021, Virginia lawmakers voted to pass Bill HB 2312, which "eliminates criminal penalties for simple possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older." 

Beyond decriminalizing possession of cannabis, the bill establishes the "Virginia Cannabis Control Authority," a new government entity that will manage the adult-use space in place of the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. As you look for updates on licensing for the recreational industry in Virginia, it is precisely this group that you should pay attention to. 

Most experts believe that the adult-use marketplace in Virginia will launch in 2024. However, some additional legislation must pass in 2022 for recreational cannabis to finally be legalized in Virginia.

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The Virginia Cannabis Dispensary Application Process

As the adult-use cannabis market in Virginia is not yet functional, many of the application process ideas are speculative. That being said, we recommend studying the application process for Virginia's medical cannabis industry to give you a feel for the market. 

As previously stated, Virginia awarded five licenses to medical cannabis producers in 2018. When the application process was active in 2018, each applicant submitted a "non-refundable application fee of $10,000." Even more, each of the five organizations who won licenses had to pay an "initial permit fee of $60,000." You can bet that application and licensing fees for the adult-use market will match or exceed these figures. 

To get a dispensary license in Virginia, applicants need to apply for a "Pharmaceutical Processor Permit." According to the Virginia Board of Pharmacy website, the following criteria are used in a point system to issue medical licenses in the state: 

  • Financial Position
  • Location within Health Service Area
  • Security Plan 
  • Authorization to Conduct Business
  • Industry Involvement and Disciplinary Action
  • Agriculture, Production, and Dispensing Expertise
  • Marketing Plans
  • Facility Exterior and Blueprint
  • Product and Site Safety
  • Expected Hours of Operation 

While these criteria have been used for the Virginia medical dispensary application process, you can expect to see many of them with the adult-use application process. Again, we urge you to follow the new Virginia Cannabis Control Authority for specifics.

Cannabis Dispensary Location

While we don't know the exact parameters for adult-use dispensary licensing in Virginia, there are a few standard components that you can count on. Of these, dispensary location is a critical factor in opening a business that you can anticipate will occur in Virginia. 

When adult-use cannabis becomes legal in Virginia, it doesn't necessarily mean you can open a dispensary anywhere you wish. Importantly, in nearly every legal cannabis market in the country today, individual municipalities have the right to refuse cannabis businesses. Surprisingly, even in cannabis-friendly Colorado, reports show that only 35% of the state allows medical or adult-use cannabis dispensaries. As part of Colorado's adult-use legalization process under Amendment 64, the state allows individual counties and towns to make their own decisions regarding dispensaries. 

If you are interested in opening a recreational dispensary in Virginia, a great starting point is researching the areas which will likely be cannabis-friendly. Once you have found a few regions that look promising, you should examine specifics such as property costs, rental rates, and consumer demographics. With this data in hand, pick a few good locations for your potential dispensary and wait to see how legislation plays out in Virginia.

Virginia Dispensary Application Support

Due to the fact that the cannabis industry is highly-regulated, all marketing operations must fall in line with company compliance protocols. As such, it’s of utmost importance that your marketing plan is written under the guidance of your legal team and/or compliance personnel. 

By developing a marketing plan that respects local cannabis laws, you will ensure that your dispensary operates without legal infringements that could threaten your licensing. Moreover, by following local regulations to the letter, you will build a respected reputation with fellow business owners in your community. 

Cannabis presents a very precarious industry to do business, especially in confusing new markets like Virginia. As such, if you are looking to open a cannabis dispensary in Virginia, you are best discussing your plans with a professional consulting firm like MOST. 

As a leading cannabis consulting company, MOST is constantly paying attention to industry news and developments. With up-to-date knowledge on such a volatile business, we can give the appropriate guidance in entering new markets, as seen in Virginia.

Contact Us today for questions about opening a cannabis dispensary.