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Albemarle County cannabis vendors await marijuana retail market

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Randi B. Hagi
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Nick Candelora and Jane Hammel pictured at the Skyline Apothecary in Crozet.

The Charlottesville area has seen a boom in hemp-based businesses in recent years. But how are these growers and retailers preparing for recreational marijuana sales when the state legislature still hasn't established retail regulations? WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

JANE HAMMEL: We offer a pretty wide variety of Delta 8 and hemp-derived Delta 9 products. Obviously, cannabis seeds …

[voice fades down]

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Randi B. Hagi
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Jane Hammel, co-owner of Skyline Apothecary in Crozet, walked me through the wide range of cannabis products lining the glass shelves of her small shop, pointing out customer favorites.

HAMMEL: … CBD topicals, CBD wellness and intimacy products, CBD bath bombs that are really wonderful … gummies, smokeables, vapes, vape cartridges, pre-rolls, loose flower, and then capsules … I know a couple massage therapists in town that will use our infused MCT oil with a carrier oil during massages.

Hammel and her co-owners opened the apothecary in December, and she's working towards opening the Crozet Grow Shop on the same property with the help of Nick Candelora, owner of Blue Ridge Seed. At the grow shop, they plan to offer –

NICK CANDELORA: Multiple different types of soils, nutrients, amendments, anything you need to grow cannabis or anything at your house … we need more people growing their own plant. This is part of the normalization movement.

A few quick notes before we dive in – cannabis is a plant, of which marijuana, which gets you high, and hemp, which does not, are both cultivars. The primary difference between the plants is the level of THC – the compound that gets you high when you smoke weed. State law still does not allow the sale of any product with more than 0.3% total THC, but individuals may legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana in Virginia.

Hammel and Candelora are two of several small business owners in the Charlottesville-Albemarle County area who currently sell as many cannabis products as they can legally – and intend to expand to marijuana once they're able.

With the legalization of recreational marijuana use and small amounts of possession that came under Governor Ralph Northam's administration last year, legal retail sales and regulations are supposed to begin January 1st, 2024. But recent actions – and lack thereof – on the part of the state legislature and Governor Glenn Youngkin have these mom-and-pop shops worried that the start date could be delayed, or regulations and fees could be enacted that effectively force them out of the industry.

HAMMEL: The planning process to open this store, and the business plan to pursue a retail dispensary license, has been a long road. The dates keep changing. The players keep changing. Committees keep not being formed. There's no information available about what retail cannabis licensing permit applications will even require at this point … it's making me a little bit nervous that that actually is not coming to fruition.

David Treccariche runs the Skooma dispensary on the downtown mall in Charlottesville. His shop currently offers CBD and Delta 8 products (both are cannabis derivatives that stay below the THC threshold) and he hopes to be ready for retail marijuana sales come 2024.

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Eze Amos
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David Treccariche is the owner of Skooma in Charlottesville.

DAVID TRECCARICHE: It's a moving target, right? And when you have a brick-and-mortar retail, it is a little nerve wracking these different state senate bills come up, and they are not really easy to digest or read or really definitive, but again, we're setting up the infrastructure, and we're willing to play by whatever rules they do lay out. We just hope they allow us to play.

There's plenty to be nervous about. The budget that state lawmakers finally agreed upon this month includes legislation that re-criminalizes possession of four ounces up to a pound of marijuana as a misdemeanor. Discussions of how to set up and regulate the retail market have been continued to the next General Assembly session in 2023. And proposed retail regulations that were on the table this year did not look favorable to small business owners, including hemp farmers who are looking to add a marijuana license.

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Albemarle Cannabis Company
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Joe Kuhn with a hemp plant grown at the Albemarle Cannabis Company farm.

JOE KUHN: One of those two bills that came through, I believe it was SB391 that was killed on the floor – that bill wanted to make hemp farmers pay $500,000 for a permit. Right now, a hemp permit is 150 bucks.

Joe Kuhn runs the Albemarle Cannabis Company with his wife, Leigh Anne. They grow their own hemp and make smokeable products, edibles, and bath and body items.

KUHN: Those bills were set up basically just to allow big business, big pharma, big ag, big money to be involved in cannabis … Those bills would have decimated the small mom and pop hemp and cannabis retailers, processors, wholesalers, all of us.

Stuart Drewry started the Commonwealth Cannabis Company last year. He grows hemp and distills his own retail products, and he noted that the longer the state takes to establish a legal marijuana market, the longer they're leaving tax revenue on the table.

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Stuart Drewry
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Stuart Drewry of the Commonwealth Cannabis Company.

STUART DREWRY: A joint legislative audit and review commission issued a report that projected the tax revenue from marijuana sales five years out from recreational availability is going to be in between $154 and $308 million.

Now, what Virginia will do with that money has been a point of contention among lawmakers. Thirty percent of the state's marijuana revenue is currently earmarked to go into the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, which would support a variety of marginalized groups, including [quote] "persons, families, and communities historically and disproportionately targeted and affected by drug enforcement." However, a senate bill proposed this year – that hasn't gone anywhere – would reallocate that money to the state's general fund.

If and when retail marijuana sales do open up, Charlottesville is poised to be a bit of a hotbox – I mean, hotspot – there are already 12 registered businesses in the area with "cannabis" or "hemp" in their name.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.