Countdown to retail sale: Inside central Virginia’s largest marijuana facility

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 5:19 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 10, 2021 at 1:30 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Even though marijuana was legalized in Virginia this past summer, you still can’t buy it in a store (unless you have a medical marijuana card). Retail sales for the general public are set to become legal in the Commonwealth in 2024- and questions are blooming over how Virginia’s cannabis marketplace will operate.

The five medical marijuana facilities in the state are already producing marijuana for sale, to those with registered medical marijuana cards. Central Virginia’s only facility, gLeaf, grows 22,000 plants at any given time.

GLeaf has a strict dress code for employees, requiring hair nets and lab coats.

“We’re very paranoid about any bugs coming into the facility,” said gLeaf’s CEO Phil Goldberg. “We’re trying to make sure that any hitchhiker bugs are not getting into our facility and causing damage to the plants.”

The state-of-the-art facility replicates the life cycle of cannabis plants tens of thousands of times over each month. It’s an almost Willy Wonka-like operation with equipment costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The process begins in large grow rooms housing “mother plants.” These prime specimens have the most desirable traits, like certain levels of CBD or THC. Clones, or pieces of those prized plants, are then clipped, dipped in hormones and transplanted.

The baby plants are given five-star treatment with LED light, specialized climate and even a time-sensitive watering schedule.

“Everything is controlled and computerized in these rooms,” he said. “We’re controlling the temperature, the humidity, the irrigation of the plants, the lighting schedule... The environment is critical to producing quality cannabis.”

Three months later, a flower emerges, dense with crystals or trichomes. The coveted trichomes hold oil sacks with up to 200 different cannabinoids and terpenes. The most well-known of those are CBD and THC.

“We’re really after the trichome production, and so we’re constantly in here monitoring, to make sure that the plants are healthy. Every plant has to be checked regularly,” said Goldberg.

As of Sept. 1, buds from the flowering plants can now be legally packaged for sale. GLeaf’s massive, brand new machine packages exact amounts of buds.

Other blossomed marijuana plants are harvested by hand. Different strains of the plant with different therapeutic properties are separated and dried.

Next, the cannabis is taken to a lab where oil is extracted through carbon dioxide machines, heat, and pressure to create hash rosin. The concentrated material is used in products like chocolates, gummies and extracts.

“Individuals have been using cannabis for thousands of years,” said Goldberg. “And it got criminalized and villainized in the United States decades ago, and we’re just evolving out of that mentality.”

In August of 2020, Virginia became the 34th state to legalize medical marijuana. Nearly a year later, Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill decriminalizing adult use. However, the new laws do have some hazy rules - you can use weed and grow it in small amounts, but you can’t buy it from a store without a medical card until 2024.

“I think there is a robust illegal market already in Virginia, and we are going to be transitioning customers out of that market and into the legal market,” he added.

State legislators and regulators are now hashing out how the marijuana market will operate. The new Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight held its first meeting in August to lay out rules for things like product safety, and how commercial licenses will be divvied in an equitable way. Some state lawmakers are pushing to prioritize Virginia-based sellers, and also minority communities that have long faced disproportionate criminalization over weed.

Whatever the retail landscape buds into, gLeaf and the other medical marijuana operations in Virginia are ready with an ‘entourage effect’- cannabinoids and terpenes interacting to create a healing response.

“Whether it’s pain relief, anti-anxiety, PTSD... Whatever ailment you’re trying to treat… We have a lab-tested product,” said Goldberg. “It’s clean. It’s safe.”

GLeaf plans on opening five more dispensaries in the central Virginia area within the next year or so. Two stores are opening this month in Short Pump and in Carytown.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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