A national cannabis products manufacturer is preparing to open a new production facility in Alleghany County to help supply Virginia’s medical marijuana market.
Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries’ products include botanical cannabis — the basic flower form of cannabis — as well as cannabis-based items such as muscle rubs, tinctures and edibles. It already operates a manufacturing facility in Abingdon and RISE Dispensary medical marijuana locations in Abingdon, Bristol, Christiansburg, Danville, Lynchburg and Salem.
In Alleghany County, GTI is in the final stages of construction work at a recently purchased 300,000-square-foot building. The company declined to say how much it has invested in its new facility.
The company anticipates launching its manufacturing operation there “within the next month or so,” said Jack Page, GTI’s market leader in Virginia.
“It is a rather large building and we are technically only going to be occupying a portion of the building to start with,” Page said. “Market demand will really determine how much of the facility is actually used. This is in response to needing additional space outside of our Abingdon facility.”
The Alleghany site will be used to cultivate cannabis, with different rooms for growing, maturing and drying the plants, as well as places to store nutrients. Material will then be sent to the company’s Abingdon site to be processed into products.
The company plans to start with about 40 employees at the new site. They’ll work in a variety of jobs including “plant-touching roles” such as flower technicians, but also in custodial, maintenance and human resources roles, Page said.
Those jobs will provide attractive new opportunities for Alleghany County residents who might not have previously considered manufacturing employment, said John Hull, executive director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership, an economic development organization that helped connect GTI with resources related to workforce recruitment and training as the company considered the location.
“It’s a great career ladder type of opportunity as well,” Hull said. “For instance, young workers can take a role there, learn the manufacturing type of skills, be introduced to that type of environment and then be available for growth in that company but also other opportunities in the larger region.”
Green Thumb Industries has more than 4,000 employees across the company. The Alleghany site will be its 19th manufacturing facility, and it has more than 80 dispensaries across more than a dozen U.S. markets. It entered the Virginia market in 2021 with the purchase of Dharma Pharmaceuticals, of which Page was a co-founder.
In May, the publicly traded company reported a first-quarter net income of $9.1 million, or 4 cents per share, on $248.5 million in revenue. In an earnings news release, the company noted its revenue was up 2% year over year and said it holds a $185 million cash balance to invest in further expanding its business. It next reports quarterly earnings on Aug. 8.
While GTI has a national presence, all of the products made at the Alleghany facility will serve the Virginia market, Page said.
“Because of the way the federal government still views cannabis, nothing can cross state lines,” he said. “Anything sold in the Virginia medical program is grown and processed and fully sourced in Virginia. And nothing that is made in Virginia is going out of state to another facility.”
Despite state legislation passed in 2021 that allows adults in Virginia to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal recreational use, as well as grow up to four marijuana plants at their own homes, there currently is no licensing or regulatory framework to allow retail sales in the commonwealth.
That means medical dispensaries remain the legal way for Virginians to purchase marijuana, Page said. Qualifying medical patients need a certification from a doctor, physician assistant or nurse practitioner, plus a valid government ID, to buy cannabis at a medical dispensary.
“The RISE Dispensaries and our counterparts in other parts of the state are the safe way for Virginians to access cannabis,” Page said. “Absent the retail market, there are some dispensaries out there that are providing access to cannabis but not necessarily in a safe manner. That’s an important distinction that I think needs to be made.”
GTI is regulated by the state Board of Pharmacy and, beginning Jan. 1, the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority. The company’s facilities are inspected for compliance with procedures such as those related to inventory and record-keeping, and third-party labs check for the presence of pesticides and heavy metals in products, Page said.
GTI’s location in the Alleghany Regional Commerce Center — a business park between the city of Covington and the town of Clifton Forge, just off Interstate 64 — makes it a good location for distributing products statewide, said Alleghany County Administrator Reid Walters.
If the federal government were to legalize marijuana, GTI would also be well-positioned to ship products into the Midwest, Walters said.
“Legalization is something that’s going to create jobs in Alleghany County and put food on people’s table, and they’re well-paying jobs,” Walters said.
Page said the possibilities for business expansion — whether that’s due to higher demand in Virginia’s medical market or due to potential legalization of recreational sales — “definitely factored into the decision to purchase the Alleghany facility.”
Still, the path to increased legalization, both at the state and federal level, remains unclear.
President Joe Biden last year pardoned all federal offenders convicted of simple marijuana possession and urged state governors to do the same. He also instructed federal officials to review how marijuana is classified under federal law.
But the president has stopped short of formally backing federal marijuana legalization, and pot remains a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level.
In Virginia, a member of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration said earlier this month the governor is “not interested in any further moves towards legalization of adult recreational use marijuana,” according to The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress.
Nonetheless, Green Thumb Industries is looking ahead to the debut of its Alleghany County facility, which, along with the launch of its newest RISE Dispensary in late June in Danville, will further boost the company’s ability to supply the commonwealth with medical cannabis.
Hull, of the Roanoke Regional Partnership, called the new facility a “truly exciting” opportunity for the Alleghany Highlands.
“It further diversifies their industrial base, and combine that with the career-building opportunities there for young workers in the area, we think that it truly is an impactful opportunity,” he said.