PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – 10 On Your Side continues our effort weeding out the new marijuana laws and that includes marijuana for medical purposes.  

Retail sales of cannabis or marijuana won’t hit until 2024, but right now in Portsmouth is a medical marijuana facility that is one of four in Virginia scheduled to begin selling medical marijuana in September 2021.  

There’s no doubt this is a big game changer for medical marijuana.

“We will be allowed to sell botanical cannabis flower for medical card holders so that is something we are gearing up for right now,” said Dr. Ray Hernandez.

Dr. Hernandez gave WAVY TV access to the Bloom Room at Columbia Care Medical Cannabis Dispensary in Portsmouth. 

He swears by medical marijuana for patients who come to the facility. “It is a natural alternative with valid medicinal applications that are therapeutically effective.” 

Dr. Hernandez is the Pharmacist in Charge and Marketing Director for Columbia Care Virginia.

“Our product from extracted oils help chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, followed by things like depression, bipolar disorders, psychiatric illnesses,” he said.

Chris Mendoza is one of 25,000 registered medical marijuana patients in Virginia.  That number is up over three times from the 7,500 that were registered at the start of 2021 and continues to grow.  

“I’ve had two surgeries…I have pain…anxiety…I’ve been diagnosed with leukemia,” said Mendoza, who was buying medicated chews and three vape products for about $200, which is not covered by insurance. 

Chris and all others entering the facility must have a written certification letter from a medical practitioner and a medical marijuana registration card. 

Interestingly, the treatment decision is made by the pharmacist at Columbia Care Virginia, not by the referring medical professional.

“Which is a doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner who is registered with the Board of Pharmacy to provide cannabis consults,” explained Dr. Hernandez. 

For now, all products are made from the purified oils that come from the plants.

“Due to my medical condition, it was really risky, and I’m scared, and this stuff really helps me too not be so scared and to not be so anxious,” said Mendoza. 

It takes about 12 weeks to grow a plant, with the first four weeks spent in what is called the Nursery. Every week they take 200 cuttings from the big mother plant and put each cutting in a clone container. 

“Every week we take a cutting, and put it in a clone tray, and let it take root, so it can be planted into a larger pot,” said Tanner Lutheran, Columbia Care’s Cultivation Manager.

After the first four weeks, the growing plant is transferred to the Bloom Room for about eight weeks. Bright lights replicate 12 hours of light before 12 hours of dark and that’s when the plant buds start to grow. “After week two you start seeing formation, and this is the marijuana flower that is developing,” said Lutheran. 

Different rows represent different weeks of growth.

Once a plant is fully ripe and mature, around week eight, the buds are harvested and ground up, ready to have its oils extracted.

That’s when Sharon Harper comes in; she is an Extraction Chemist. 

It’s a complicated process, but Harper takes the marijuana and through a detailed process extracts the oil that has the chemical that is used for medicinal purposes. In the end, the extraction process harvests the oil from the marijuana.  

Harper has jars of dark thick liquid that is known as Distillate and that makes the products that are sold up front in the pharmacy.