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Friday, May 24, 2024

Virginia Agency in Charge of Medical Cannabis Program can’t Provide Sales Data

A dispensary employee measuring flowers in Richmond. (Josephine Walker/VCU Capital News Service)

RICHMOND — No agency tasked with management of the state’s medical cannabis program can cite sales data, but the Cannabis Control Authority said it plans to start tracking revenue in 2024.

Medical marijuana became legal in 2020 and the first dispensary opened in Bristol that year. There are now over 20 dispensaries across the state.

The state Board of Pharmacy, which falls under the Virginia Department of Health Professions, currently oversees the medical cannabis program. The CCA will take on its regulatory role in January.

Capital News Service asked the VDHP for sales figures, but it recommended checking with the CCA.

But the CCA could not provide the sales data either, though CNS asked multiple times because numerous sources pointed to them.

The authority is limited to access of the medical cannabis program data because they’re not the current regulator, according to chief officer Jeremy Preiss.

The BOP has no statutory authority to collect the financial data, according to spokesperson Diane Powers. It tracks the number of times a product is dispensed through the Prescription Monitoring Program. There were 1.7 million dispensations of medical cannabis through September this year. Overall, there has been a “rapid rise” in cannabis dispensations, according to the agency.

CNS asked the BOP about the average price of items dispensed, but were told the agency “has no regulatory authority to set or monitor prices,” and to contact the CCA.

The VDHP does track revenue generated from fees charged to processors, providers and patients who paid registration and participation fees. A patient no longer needs to pay to register as of last year, which helps explain lower revenue last fiscal year.

Licensure fees must cover all the expenses associated with the program, according to Powers.

The total revenue from the last three fiscal years:

  • FY 2021 – $1,837,745.00
  • FY 2022 – $2,581,997.30
  • FY 2023 – $620,709.91

The total expenditures from the last three fiscal years:

  • FY 2021 – $ 583,902.03
  • FY 2022 – $1,109,530.53
  • FY 2023 – $1,269,195.45

The program’s expenses included shared services, finance, enforcement, human resources and information technology.

The Maryland Cannabis Administration tracks and reports the monthly revenue and expenditures, the number of patients and total dispensary sales, and presents the information to the public.

The Washington D.C. Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration tracks the same information, as well as the number of Virginia patients who make purchases.

The CCA would only respond to written questions.

“The CCA is committed to building systems and processes that will enable us to track sales and report data once we assume regulatory oversight in 2024,” Preiss stated. “We plan to share collected sales data publicly as soon as we have the capability to do so.”

Virginia’s medical cannabis program was projected to earn approximately $50 million by 2024, according to MJBIZ — a publication covering cannabis business news since 2011.

Pharmaceutical processors are permitted facilities that grow cannabis plants and dispense medical products to patients. The companies that provide medical cannabis in the state have all reported increased earnings and growth in the state, according to recent reports filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

CNS contacted the state’s cannabis processors: Green Thumb, which owns Dharma Pharmaceuticals; Columbia Care, which also owns Green Leaf Medical; and Jushi, which owns Dalitso. Only Dalitso responded, but would not provide sales data. The spokesperson said to contact the Board of Pharmacy.

Columbia Care listed the state as a top market and reported that revenue grew more than 25%.

Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, supported legislation to decriminalize cannabis and create recreational and medical markets in Virginia. As a nurse practitioner, she operates a business that certifies medical cannabis patients.

Adams would like to see the CCA present a comprehensive revenue and expenditure audit from the inception of the medical cannabis program through December, she said.

The program and state have generated and provided millions of dollars, according to Adams.

“The question is, where are those funds and what are they funding currently?” she said. “And what is the remainder of those funds and how will those be appropriated to the CCA?”

State lawmakers carved almost $6 million of funding from the CCA in September.

The CCA is now budgeted $5.3 million for its operations, which is $2.9 million less than it was given last year. The authority was originally created in anticipation of the recreational cannabis market that lawmakers voted down, so some of its scope has changed.

“The budget is not really necessarily problematic, I think they have the funds to do what they need to do right now,” Adams said about the CCA.

Some of the budget cuts would have originally funded zero and low interest loans for licensees participating in an adult-use retail market, according to Preiss, but lawmakers never passed a recreational market.

The CCA has an 18-member team preparing to take control of the medical program, and plans to hire a few more people. To prepare for a smooth transition, the agency has developed the regulations and guidance documents to administer the medical cannabis program.

In addition to its upcoming regulatory role, the agency releases publications and social media posts about how to engage with cannabis legally and safely. It also has a campaign to promote safe driving.

Another top priority is to get a licensed pharmaceutical processor into Health Service Area 1, Preiss stated. The Northwest region of the state has been without a medical cannabis market due to a lawsuit that was resolved earlier this year.

The CCA will invest in new technology such as Seed-to-Sale software to help “enhance the security of the medical cannabis program.” It can identify contaminated products to ease removal and is intended to enhance consumer protection and public health, Preiss stated. The software also detects if cannabis is diverted out of the program or illicit cannabis enters the program.

The CCA, as part of its policy work, advises the General Assembly on “various aspects of cannabis” when a bill is being drafted or after introduction, according to Preiss. The agency has started the dialogues for potential legislation in 2024, and is near completion with a requested study due on Nov. 30 about possible medical cannabis program expansion.

“This is not easy work, and we are fortunate to have a sharp, long-time state government executive leading these efforts,” Preiss stated.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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