VA: Bristol Officials Need To Take The Lead In Pushing For Cannabis Operation

Photo Credit: Chris Roussakis

Here’s a strong suggestion — no, actually a demand —that the Bristol Virginia City Council, city manager and other administrative staff begin right now taking a pro-active role in helping to get a proposed cannabidiol oil processing facility approved by the state for the abandoned Bristol Mall.

If there was ever a time for the City Council to step up and show the kind of leadership Bristol needs, that time is now.

This could be the start of something really huge for Bristol and this entire region, but to make this a reality, our city officials must step forward, take command and push this plan with everything they have to offer as leaders.

What’s it all about? A local company called Par Ventures said this past week that it intends to acquire the vacant mall property and lease space to another firm, Dharma Pharmaceuticals, which is seeking permission from the Pharmacy Board of Virginia to establish a cannabidiol oil processing facility.

According to Bristol Herald Courier reports, that operation would employ about 150 people initially, with the promise that most would be hired locally.

The facility would grow cannabis in a controlled, indoor environment, harvest cannabidiol oil, and then sell the oil products to Virginia residents registered with the state and possessing doctors’ prescriptions for them. The oils are known to be non-addictive painkillers that are being touted as alternatives to opioids.

Par Ventures says the oil processing facility would take up about 80,000 square feet of the closed mall to begin — specifically the former J.C. Penney department store, using much of it as a “grow” room. The rest of the nearly 500,000 square-foot mall would then be leased to other tenants that could bring “500 quality jobs” over the next two to three years, Par Ventures says.

The Pharmacy Board of Virginia is expected to issue five licenses statewide to firms to cultivate, produce and dispense cannabidiol, the Herald Courier reported. The product is extracted from the flowers and buds of marijuana or hemp plants. Proponents say cannabidiol, or CBD, is not intoxicating because the level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in it is too low for that.

Competition for the state permit could be tough. Under a new state law, the Board of Pharmacy plans to issue permits to five CBD processors statewide — but only one in each geographic region. That means only one facility will be allowed in Southwest Virginia. That’s why strong lobbying efforts on behalf of the Bristol application will be needed, and where our local officials can actually show us whether they truly are the leaders we need to move Bristol forward.

Par Ventures plans to hold an open, public information session about the CBD processing facility at the Historic Bristol Train Station at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Following that session, the City Council will hold a special meeting at City Hall, expected to be about 8 p.m., to discuss the proposal and the city’s planned response. The pharmaceutical company is seeking the council’s endorsement before submitting its application to the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. The deadline for applications is 2 p.m. June 8.

A poll on the Herald Courier website over the past few days seeking public opinion on the plans for the mall facility showed an amazingly positive response: By late Friday, more than 1,050 people had given their approval to the idea, and fewer than 130 had indicated any reservations about it.

According to the Herald Courier reports, if the state gives conditional approval to the CBD facility application, the city plans to conduct a full public hearing on the issue later this year, a city document shows.

The mall, which for decades was the main shopping venue in the Bristol area, closed last August after its final retail tenant moved out, the Herald Courier story noted. It has changed hands several times, and earlier this year it was put back on the real estate market with a $2.9 million asking price.

Breathing new life into the property, with the promise of hundreds of new jobs, is just what Bristol needs.