VIRGINIA BEACH — A City Council briefing Tuesday about the emerging medical cannabis oil industry in the state was “deferred” last minute because of a scheduling conflict.
A new date for the briefing has not been finalized but Vice-Mayor Jim Wood said it could be in July.
Del. Glenn Davis, who represents the 84th District in Virginia Beach, and the city’s Director of Economic Development Warren Harris, were scheduled to give the presentation to City Council. Davis was one of the patrons of the legislation allowing medical cannabis oil that was signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in March.
The briefing by Davis and Harris was slated to be a discussion of the economic benefits of the medical cannabis oil industry, and is an indication of support among top city officials for attracting the industry to the city.
What does this mean for Virginia?
As the regulatory process moves forward, people like Daniel Rouleau — a marijuana advocate, and cannabis industry consultant — is happy with the progress, but also surprised.
“It’s definitely a unique opportunity here in Virginia,” Rouleau said. “And five years ago, I did not think I’d be able to own a cannabis consulting business.”
Rouleau said people in Virginia won’t need to travel to other states for relief from the many medical conditions that cannabis oil can treat.
Rouleau is also on the board of directors of the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — Virginia NORML — and serves with its executive director, Jenn Michelle Pedini.
Rouleau and Pedini also operate the state’s only major “cannabis consulting firm,” Virginia Cannabis Group. The firm “provides the expertise and assistance needed to apply, start, and grow your cannabis company” in Virginia, according to their website.
Pedini said even with the passage of Virginia’s medical cannabis oil legislation, there have been a lot concerns about having the medical cannabis oil industry in the state.
“The conversation around regulation has certainly shifted as we’ve gone deeper into the process,” Pedini said. “I think the legislature and board of pharmacy recognize better who the experts on the subject matter are in this state.”
Exactly where will the cannabis be grown?
According to the Virginia Department of Health, there are five health service areas in the state. The Virginia Board of Pharmacy, which is the regulatory agent for the state’s medical cannabis oil industry, will award one license to a business in each HSA.
June 8 was the deadline to apply for one of those five licenses, which required a nonrefundable $10,000 application fee. Officials will announce which businesses receive licenses on Sept. 25.
Local business groups “have expressed interest for becoming licensed providers,” according to City Council’s presentation on cannabis oil that was slated for Tuesday.
The Hampton Roads area in general has expressed much interest in the new industry. According to statistics emailed by Diane Powers, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health Professions, interest in becoming a licensed provider of medical cannabis in the state was highest in the Hampton Roads area.
Of the 51 total applications received by the pharmacy board, 15 were from Hampton Roads, more than any other HSA in the state, according to Powers’ email. State officials are currently not releasing any details from the applications because of the proprietary information they contain.
Although the legislation — which permits the medical use of cannabis oil, produced by only five providers in the state — is narrow in its scope, Rouleau said the implications of the bill are actually significant.
“We are setting the policy model nationwide with the new standard of ‘let doctors decide,’ Rouleau said.
Most states regulating cannabis products for medical use have a “list-based system,” Rouleau said. Rather than a doctor’s recommendation, a legislature creates a list of medical conditions they have approved for treatment by a cannabis product.
Virginia’s legislation “is actually huge,”
So how do Virginia Beach leaders fit into all this?
“Delegate Davis has long been a champion of expanding medical cannabis access in the Commonwealth,” Pedini wrote in an email. “We look forward to continuing our work together to bring much needed relief to the thousands of Virginians who’ve been waiting years to obtain safe, regulated medical cannabis products here at home.”
Updated June 28, 2018: Daniel Rouleau passed the bar exam but is not licensed to practice law in Virginia. He was referred to as a Virginia Beach attorney in an older version of this story.