A Hampton startup plans to invest $8 million to launch a medical marijuana dispensary and bring hundreds of jobs to the city in a bid to become the first of its kind licensed in Virginia.
Barely six months into its existence, Rx Native Pharmaceuticals is among 51 applicants seeking conditional permits from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy (BOP) to operate a “pharmaceutical processor,” a business that would cultivate, manufacture and dispense medicinal cannabidiol oil and products.
The company is seeking the conditional permit for Health District 5, as designated by the Virginia Board of Health.
District 5 comprises 24 localities, including the Peninsula, Southside, Middle Peninsula and parts of Northern Neck.
The BOP, which met early last week, is set to award one license for each health district by mid-August, according to its website. There are at least 15 applicants vying for a license in District 5.
Rx Native already has lease rights to a Hampton property at 3130 Nasa Drive. It is a 30,000-square-foot facility, with three connected buildings where the company would have the capacity to grow as many as 5,200 marijuana plants in a first phase, which it can transform into beneficial oil, creams and capsules for sale.
If Rx Native gains the conditional approval, the company would bring in as many as 100 new jobs to Hampton, with the promise of as many as 300 over the next three years, says company Chief Operating Officer Chantra Stevenson.
“We are a local group who wants to help the local community definitely with … the financial investment, the jobs … and investing in the people, training and giving them the knowledge and giving them access to the business,” Stevenson said.
While most applications are for dispensaries on the Southside, Stevenson believes the company is a strong candidate for the District 5 award because of Hampton’s locale.
“Virginia Beach has the population density … Hampton is centrally located. If you put a facility down in Virginia Beach … the people in the north will have to go through two tunnels and traffic, on a good day … We are all about equal access.”
The company has been working with Hampton zoning officials since June, city officials said. If awarded a conditional license, the company principals believe they can be operating within a month of the award — faster than any other applicant in the mix for a license.
Under the BOP requirements, an applicant has up to a year to complete and meet all necessary criteria to receive the state permit. Once a company is granted a full license, it would get an inspection and ultimately a full permit to grow marijuana plants.
Locally grown and made
Since June, Hampton has been reviewing its zoning laws and looking at possible amendments that would allow the combination of uses in the limited manufacturing district, spokeswoman Robin McCormick said. Currently, that zoning allows the manufacturing and sales aspects but not the growing, she said.
The Rx Native facility, at 3130 Nasa Drive — a former homeland security research facility, briefly leased by NASA — is in that same zoning district, city officials said. The property is just off Commander Sheppard Boulevard and near NASA Langley Research Center.
The building, assessed at a little over $1 million according to city tax records, sits on 4 acres of land and has three connected buildings. Each building would serve as one component of the operation: the front end dispensary, the laboratory to manufacture the medicine and then the greenhouse to grow the plants, Stevenson said.
She envisions the dispensary interior laid out as a typical pharmacy: with a retail storefront, very similar to a bank with teller windows, and rooms for patient consultations. Behind securely closed doors, it will be much like a bank vault of products stored in an inventory room, she said. Behind that room would be a laboratory and then a greenhouse.
The company would have all the same security as any other pharmaceutical manufacturing facility under Virginia regulations: a local security firm, surveillance and access badges, biotech software that tracks every plant, and more, Stevenson said.
Among the jobs that would be included at Rx Native: chemists, stock people, inventory managers, security personnel, pharmacists and pharmacy techs and people for general upkeep and maintenance, she said.
In addition to the jobs, the $8 million investment would cover the warehouse costs: the growing equipment, green room, lighting, watering systems, the machinery for the plant processing, the scales, glassware and ovens, to name a few, she said.
The company, currently with five principals, formed shortly after the Virginia Board of Pharmacy in April issued a request for applications for entities based in either Virginia or out-of-state. The requests for applications came once the General Assembly earlier this year amended laws affecting medical marijuana production, which now allow for in-state manufacturing.
The law also now allows for any licensed medical practitioner, or doctor of osteopathy, to issue a prescription – and it can be for any medical condition.
The products created would have no more than 5 percent of the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical component that creates the “high” in marijuana. One plant yields about 12 grams or half an ounce of the cannabidiol oil, or two plants per one ounce, Stevenson said.
The company is prohibited from selling the flower, or what people think of as “the bud” part of the plant, she said. Virginia regulations state that a pharmaceutical processor can initially only grow enough plants necessary to meet the number of patients within its first nine months of operation.
That means, no more than 12 plants per patient at any given time based on dispensing data from the previous 90 days, according to the BOP website.
Stevenson, originally from Washington, said the group includes three people who are from Hampton Roads: owner George Fiscella, pharmacist Jessica D’Aurora, Chief Financial Officer Joe Scarcello and Ben Myer, who is lending his expertise after a successful 2012 launch of a similar business in Phoenix and Glendale, Ariz., called Arizona Organix.
Background with cannabis
Stevenson, 37, is a breast cancer survivor who was first diagnosed in 2015. While the wife and mother is in remission, she has experienced firsthand the effects of opioids and the benefits of cannabidiols.
“I’ve lived it going through breast cancer surgeries. First thing they give you is a pain medication. It wreaks havoc on the body. It wreaks havoc on your lifestyle,” she said. “You start taking them and they have an addictive quality to them. That’s the beauty and passion behind CBD. It’s less addictive.”
She hopes to bring that kind of access to Hampton, not only to help those who are sick, but to help regular people have access to the products.
“As this marijuana industry becomes a huge business, the bigger it becomes, the less access that minorities and women will have,” she said. “I am a strong advocate that we all have equal access.”
Vernon Sparks can be reached by phone at 757-247-4832 or on Twitter at @lvernonsparks.