Dharma plans move to Washington County

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BRISTOL, Va. — Dharma Pharmaceuticals plans to relocate operations from the Bristol Mall to a rural site on Watauga Road in Abingdon.

The company is one of five processors with state approval to grow cannabis, extract the cannabidiol oils to produce medicines and sell those products to state-registered patients. The firm received its state permit from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy in January, after passing its final inspection and began production this past winter in the former J.C. Penney store.

However, the vacant mall property in Bristol, Virginia is now planned as the site of the proposed Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino, pending a Nov. 3 public referendum vote. Site plans for the proposed casino show the current Dharma space designated as a conference center.

“In June 2020, we received a notification from our landlord that our lease would be terminated at the Bristol Mall, so we conducted an extensive search around the area and settled on 26864 Watauga Road,” Dharma CEO Jack Page said. “We anticipate the move, hopefully, before the end of this year or, hopefully, the first quarter of next year.”

Any move and new site must be approved by the state Board of Pharmacy.

The company received a green light Tuesday from the Washington County Board of Supervisors, which unanimously approved a special exception for Dharma to operate a sales and distribution location at the Watauga Road site, which is zoned for manufacturing. Production was already allowed within the existing zoning.

The 8.3-acre site is east of Johnston Memorial Hospital between Interstate 81 Exits 19 and 22 and currently houses a Damascus Corp. manufacturing facility. Owner Eric Miller told the board he intends to use proceeds from selling the property to expand operations at his other facility near Exit 22.

Dharma expects to employ 30-35 people once the facility is completely operational, according to a document filed with the county.

City Manager Randy Eads declined comment on the firm’s plans.

Dharma was the first processor licensed by the state and the only one licensed to serve Virginia’s health region three, which includes more than 20 counties and the cities of Bristol, Danville, Galax, Martinsville, Norton, Radford, Roanoke and Salem.

Under existing state law, pharmaceutical processors must conduct all operations — growing, processing and sales — at the same location.

However, the business is not open to the general public. Only patients who have documentation from a licensed health-care provider, are certified by the Board of Pharmacy to receive the products and have a valid photo ID proving they live in Virginia can gain access, Page said.

“We expect 75 to 150 patients a day, delivery traffic will be very limited and there are 3,600 patients statewide,” Page said.

The Board of Pharmacy is currently developing regulations to allow offsite sales.

“A new bill passed in the last [General Assembly] session will allow us to operate five off-site dispensary locations,” Page said. “Right now our one facility will serve the entire region we serve, but, in the near future, probably January, we will be opening up to five off-site locations.”

Those changes are outlined on the board’s website.

“The board may issue or renew a maximum of five permits for cannabis dispensing facilities in each health service area. The cannabis dispensing facility must be owned in part by the pharmaceutical processor permitted in that area. Emergency regulations related to these facilities will tentatively become effective in January 2021. Applications for permitting cannabis dispensing facilities may be accepted in 2021 after the emergency regulations become effective,” it states.

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