RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia State Board of Pharmacy approved the applications for five companies to open medical marijuana dispensaries across the Commonwealth.

The companies still need to go through background checks before the awards are finalized. There will be a dispensary in each health service region of the state. They have to be up and running within a year.

The Hampton-based startup company, Rx Native Pharmaceuticals, wasn’t among the initial picks. New York-based Columbia Care, which currently operates medical marijuana dispensaries in nine states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, was selected for Hampton Roads’ District 5. 

“We have a mix of both both out of state companies that are already regulating in other states and Virginia based companies as well,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, the Executive director of Virginia NORML. “It was exciting to hear the companies that will be bringing medical cannabis to tens of thousands of Virginians.”

Applications were accepted from April to June, with each application costing $10,000. In the language of the law, these dispensaries are technically “pharmaceutical processors” because they also grow and cultivate the marijuana intended to the sold to patients.

Since 2015, there have been a number of efforts to expand laws on medical marijuana in the General Assembly. Most recently, the “Let Doctors Decide” law was passed which allows physicians to prescribe medical marijuana to any patient. Before, only people with epilepsy could get it.

Doctors, caregivers and patients who give and take medical marijuana prescriptions have to be registered with the board of pharmacy.

Oils derived from marijuana, like CBD and THC, are developed into different products for medicinal use. This includes capsules, lozenges and lotions.

“These highly concentrated and highly refined products are really best suited for those with immune disorders and pediatric patients,” Pedini said.

Other patients deal with chronic pain too.

Darshanay Johnson looks like the average 26-year-old, but a pain inside is sometimes too much to bear.

“Some days it’s like, great I feel good. Some days it’s like I can’t get out of bed because I’m just too stiff to move,” Johnson said. “Your knees are so fragile. You use them way more than more than you kind of realize it just doing the day to day activities.”

A torn ACL put Johnson in the hospital two years ago and still feels serious pain in both of her knees. Johnson used to work in a preschool, but started working an office job because of her injury.

“It’s just kind of hard for me because I miss being active and working with children every day. To kind of have to change my lifestyle just because of a simple knee injury,” she added.

Doctors prescribed Johnson opioids for the pain, but she developed side-effects from the drugs, like depression.

“Being able to find a safer alternative would be just amazing. Besides simply having to depend on opioids every day,” Johnson said.

Johnson thinks medical marijuana would be another option for her.

“I want to be able to take medicine on my terms,” she added.

While only cannabis oils are approved to use prescribed, Pedini says she thinks legislation could expand overtime in the Commonwealth.

“I think Virginia ultimately will move forward just as other states have with dispensing flower but for now we are taking care of those more vulnerable populations,” Pedini said.

Pedini says medical marijuana could be on the market as early as nine months from now. The awards will be finalized on Oct. 25 or Nov. 28, according to the State Board of Pharmacy.

Here’s a list of all of the companies approved in each health service area:

  • PharmaCann Virginia (Health Service Area I)
  • Dalitso (Health Service Area II)- a Virginia-based company
  • Dharma Pharmaceuticals (Health Service Area III) – a Virginia-based company
  • Green Leaf Medical of Virginia (Health Service Area IV)
  • Columbia Care (Health Service Area V) – a New York based company