BRISTOL, Va. — Dharma Pharmaceuticals received conditional approval Tuesday to establish a cannabidiol oil processing facility in the city.
Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy selected the local startup firm and four other applicants from across the state to establish pharmaceutical processing facilities that will grow cannabis to extract and sell cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil. All other applications were denied by the board.
Dharma was one of 10 applicants from Virginia’s third health district and among 51 statewide seeking the licenses under a new state law.
“We’re excited, and we think it will do great,” said Clyde Stacy, head of Par Ventures, whose firm will be heavily invested in the Dharma project. “It’s joy and relief. Joy that we’ve actually got the license, and it’s relief because it’s something we’ve been working on for a long time.”
Par Ventures owns the Bristol Mall and is also involved in an effort to establish a resort casino on that property.
All state approvals are conditional until criminal background checks are completed on the people involved in each operation. Final approvals are expected in either October or November, and firms will have a year from that date to begin operations.
Products would only be available to Virginia residents, and the state estimates there would be 495,000 potential patients who need these medicines, or roughly 100,000 in each of the five districts.
Dharma received widespread support from the city and area lawmakers before filing its application in early June. An ad hoc committee — established by the state board to review all applications — met Sept. 4 in a closed meeting to deliberate and score the various applications. The committee then sent those scored applications to the board.
Bristol Virginia City Manager Randy Eads drove to Richmond to address the committee Tuesday morning then returned to Bristol, Virginia, in time for Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting, where he announced the news that Dharma had been selected.
During his comments to the board in Richmond, Eads voiced the city’s support and noted Bristol is in “the heart of the opioid crisis.” He cited the region’s high rate of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome compared to other parts of the state and said the region’s overdose mortality rate was nearly double the rest of Virginia. Eads said the project would bring “hope” to residents.
“No one tipped their hand [on how they would vote] on the Board of Pharmacy; however, I did notice, as I was speaking, several board members I think were nodding in agreement with what I was saying,” Eads said after Tuesday night’s meeting.
He said the long drive to speak for two minutes was worthwhile.
“These are opportunities you cannot pass up,” Eads said. “If you have the opportunity to go to Richmond and lobby for a business to be in Bristol, Bristol does not have the opportunity to say, ‘No, we don’t have time for that.’ Now is the time we have to put a face on Bristol, be there and support people who are trying to have a business here in Bristol.”
Applicants were evaluated through a scoring system that included a detailed analysis of the firm’s financial position and ability to create and operate the business, its location in a community and health service area, its plans to secure the facility and its ability to conduct business and occupy the proposed premises, according to the Board of Pharmacy website.
The ad hoc committee also reviewed disciplinary action if a firm had similar operations in other states, assessed its expertise in agriculture, in production and in dispensing the product, reviewed marketing plans and blueprints for the facility and looked at product and site safety, as well as expected hours of operation.
“I gave the Par Ventures project an 80-20 chance,” Mayor Kevin Mumpower said. “They have a pharmacist behind them, the technical engineers on the [growing] side, and the team was solid both technically and financially. I [thought] Bristol, Virginia, needing a project to help revitalize it would also play well.”
Mumpower said the company’s hard work lies ahead.
The business is expected to create up to 150 new jobs, but Mumpower said its impact could go beyond that.
“The impact of this is greater because those jobs are higher-end, skilled type jobs. It’s not basic retail or minimum wage jobs,” the mayor said. “These are technicians that have to maintain a sophisticated process, pharmacists, horticulturists, highly degreed individuals [and] legal people, and the people overseeing the process will have to be highly skilled.”
Mumpower predicted the CBD oil business could help attract other related businesses, such as packaging or logistics, wanting to be close to the production and distribution facility.