Marijuana plants (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File) Medical Marijuana Arrives in Virginia
Marijuana plants (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Dharma becomes first dispensary to open under state’s new law

BRISTOL- For years, people have used medical marijuana to treat ailments ranging from anxiety to Parkinson’s. So far, 33 states in the US have legalized the substance. And earlier this year, Virginia became one of them. 2020 was a landmark time in terms of marijuana-related laws. In the state’s first General Assembly session, Gov. Ralph Northam officially legalized medical marijuana, making safe products easier to access for those in need.

And finally, Virginia’s first medical marijuana dispensary opened Oct. 17, in the old Bristol Mall. However, while Dharma Pharmaceuticals becomes the first dispensary to open, it won’t be the only one for long. There are three other shops that will open in Virginia over the coming months. They include Green Leaf in Richmond, Columbia Care in Portsmouth and Beyond/Hello in Manassas. 

But for Dharma CEO Shanna Berry, it’s more than about being the first. It’s about helping those in need in the state that she calls home.

“At Dharma, we are all locally owned operators. We are all Virginians,” Berry said. “I’ve wanted to be in this field for 10 years. So to have the opportunity, especially as a woman, to help lead this organization and help give people jobs simultaneously has been a win-win-win situation.”

Planning for future expansion

Dharma’s plans don’t stop in Bristol. After this location, the company plans to expand to five other sites across Virginia. There are also plans for a delivery service in the future.

“We fully expect to expand out to service patient needs with these off-site dispensaries in our health service region,” said Berry. “And we will also offer an online delivery service for patients.”

Right now, the company is in the middle of implementing an online delivery service through their website. However, because of policy, patients must make their first purchase in person.

“Patients are really excited that there’s a place finally opening,” said Berry. “A lot of people didn’t even realize that there was a medical marijuana program in Virginia. ” In fact, Virginia has technically had a medical marijuana program since 2015. However, dispensaries weren’t allowed to run until this year.

What’s the benefit of a dispensary?

It’s important that medical marijuana, just like any other medicine, is regulated. Without having these rules in place, these products could be harmful.

“The most immediate benefit is that people will be able to obtain safe, regulated products right here in the commonwealth,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini. Jenn works with the Virginia chapter of NORML, a group dedicated to changing marijuana laws across the US . “They will no longer have to obtain products from out of state or the illicit market.” 

If people buy from the illicit market, they run the risk of getting contaminated products. And that could have disastrous consequences.

“Products from the illicit market could have molds, pesticides or heavy metals in them,” said Berry. “One of the things we know about cannabis is that it’s a bio-accumulator, meaning that it will pull the toxicity out of the soil if it’s planted improperly.”

Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy has very strict product standards for dispensaries. And while this makes the process tedious, Berry says it’s well worth it to make sure their customers are receiving products that are safe.

“It’s not like you just open a store and go. It’s an entire process,” said Berry. “We have very stringent regulations that are in place for patient safety that we have to adhere to. But, we’re very fortunate because this gives us good quality control over the entire product from seed to sale.”

What do I need to place an order?

In order to purchase from the store, there are three things that you’ll need- a photo ID, written certification from a medical practitioner and a registration card from the Board of Pharmacy. Without these things, you can’t get any product.

If you think that medical marijuana would be helpful, you have to talk to your healthcare provider. But, it’s important to note that only registered practitioners can recommend the substance. If your doctor is not a registered practitioner, they can become one.

Currently, there are three separate forms depending on whether you’re a practitioner, patient or parent/ guardian of a patient, or a registered agent. But, the Virginia Department of Health Professions site processes all applications. There is a 5 to 7 day wait for application to process. There is also a $50 registration fee for patients and a $25 registration fee for practitioners, parents/ guardians, and registered agents. Visit NORML’s site for more details.  

Berry recommends scheduling an appointment before coming out to the store. Currently, there are about 70 to 80 people registered. You can sign up online through their website.

The address for Dharma Pharmaceuticals is 500 Gate City Highway, Suite 460 in Bristol. There’s a sign pointing towards the entrance of Dharma’s parking lot. Right now, the company can only accept payments in cash or www.canpaydebit.com. Go to their website for more information.