Although the sale of recreational marijuana is illegal in Virginia, more and more Hampton Roads entrepreneurs are getting into the industry.
A Google Maps search for “cannabis” returns results from at least nine local businesses. Dozens of other companies are popping up looking for “CBD”, a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis.
The companies go beyond just selling CBD oils and creams. Now Hampton Roads businesses and organizations are helping customers grow their own plants, access medical marijuana cards, and build job skills to prepare for the eventual legalization of retail sales. It is uncertain whether the General Assembly will open the door to retail sales by 2024.
When former Governor Ralph Northam decriminalized marijuana possession in 2021, the law also allowed Virginia residents to grow up to four cannabis plants at their place of residence.
Norfolk resident Phil Jernigan’s new venture is helping aspiring pot growers break into the world of indoor growing. It opened Tidewater High Grow in May on Tidewater Drive just off the Interstate 64 interchange.
Inside the shop is everything from soil for growing lights to huge hydroponic setups. Jernigan, who says he has been growing for decades, hopes to start classes soon to educate beginners.
“Since the law came into effect, you’ve had a lot of new, entry-level producers,” Jernigan said. “It’s a huge new market.”
Growth is an investment, Jernigan said. He estimated that a decent hydroponic setup — a tent, fans, lights, and other materials — could cost upwards of $1,200.
He is also participating in a new trend – cannabis seed giveaways – as a way to promote his business. Aside from medical dispensaries, buying and selling marijuana is prohibited by 2021 law, but “adult sharing” or gifting is possible.
Michael Stoney began exploring marijuana after being shot twice in the arm and chest while working as a narcotics detective in Queens, New York.
Stoney suffered major pain episodes after the shooting, but he hated taking painkillers. After moving to Hampton Roads, Stoney realized weed and CBD could help him manage his pain, and he threw the opioids away.
Stoney, owner of the PROH wellness center in Norfolk, now helps clients obtain medical marijuana licenses. For $125, clients can meet with a nurse practitioner, who examines their symptoms and issues a written certificate of cannabis use. PROH had also helped patients register with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, but legislation passed earlier this year ends that registration process effective July 1.
In addition to helping customers obtain medical marijuana cards, the company also offers life coaching classes – teaching good habits regarding diet, exercise and other factors.
“We want to talk to them a lot more about their lifestyle,” Stoney said.
Another group from Virginia focuses on integrating non-white residents of Hampton Roads into the cannabis industry in a variety of roles – from running a dispensary to growing cannabis to learning. professional skills for retail sales.
Called the Virginia Minority Cannabis Commission, the nonprofit is focused on creating meaningful economic change for those most affected by decades of unjust drug laws, said Paul McLean, founder and executive director.
The group has previously hosted several events in Hampton Roads where they attempt to bridge the cannabis education gap with religious and community leaders. The event also offers attendees a chance to learn how to get a head start on entering the industry before retail sales begin.
“It’s about creating opportunities and educating people,” McLean said.
Business owners recognized that they were operating in an industry with an uncertain legislative future. After Republicans claimed the Virginia House of Delegates and governorship in 2021, they addressed the issue of establishing cannabis retail sales. Democrats had set a goal of establishing a system by 2024, but then tried to push that date back into the 2022 session. Republicans blocked the attempt and offered no alternative, reports say. by Virginia Mercury.
Governor Glenn Youngkin and his allies also inserted language into the state budget that recriminalizes having 4 ounces but less than a pound of marijuana in public as a misdemeanor. Lawmakers approved the change as part of the budget, which was signed into law by Youngkin.
McLean said he’s not surprised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are still trying to roll back marijuana laws.
“It’s a real concern,” he said.
McLean noted the stigma the drug still faces and the problems caused by legal drugs like prescription opioids and alcohol like addiction and drunk driving.
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Jernigan worried that the setback would deter new marijuana growers and entrepreneurs from entering the market.
Stoney said he thought, given the amount of money at stake, lawmakers would give in and establish a retail system. Still, he said he would continue to help his customers and had high hopes for the industry’s future.
“I want it to be a destination for tourists,” Stoney said. “I want Virginia to be proud.”
Tidewater High Grow is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday at 7441 Tidewater Drive in Norfolk.
The PROH Wellness Center is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 223 E. City Hall Ave., Suite 327, in Norfolk.
The Virginia Minority Cannabis Commission’s next event is a free cannabis talk at 9 a.m. on July 23 at the Sixth Mt. Zion STREM Center at 1705 Aspenwood Drive in Hampton.
Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345, [email protected]