City changes where medical cannabis facilities will be allowed

Danville officials have changed where it will allow medical cannabis dispensaries in the city.

The change comes after a cannabis dispensing company, Dharma Pharmaceuticals, LLC, decided they no longer wanted to locate in the city’s neighborhood commercial district, but to open up in the highway retail zoning district instead.

Danville City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to allow cannabis dispensing facilities as permitted uses in the latter district and to remove them as permitted uses from the neighborhood commercial district.

“That location was no longer conducive,” said Danville Planning Director Doug Plachcinski. “They decided that where they wanted to locate originally was not conducive and not suitable.”

During its July 6 meeting, City Council had approved including a definition for a cannabis dispensing facility in its zoning ordinance, and amended the city’s neighborhood commercial retail district to add such facilities as a permitted use.

But Tuesday night’s vote nullified allowing them in the neighborhood commercial retail district and allowed them in the highway retail commercial district, instead.

In a Dec. 17 letter to Plachcinski, an attorney for Dharma Pharmaceuticals wrote that the highway retail commercial district would be more beneficial for customers. Also, state limitations on where cannabis dispensing facilities can locate reduces the number of suitable locations in the city, wrote Roanoke-based attorney Jonathan D. Puvak, with Gentry Locke Attorneys.

“The applicant believes that a HR-C zoned property would be most suitable for a cannabis dispensing facility because these properties tend to be accessible to people traveling on main roadways and have sufficient parking to accommodate patients traveling a far distance,” Puvak wrote. “Further, there are limitations under Virginia law about where dispensing facilities may be located, and each location must be at least 1,000 feet away from any school or day care center.”

No plans have been submitted by Dharma Pharmaceuticals for a cannabis dispensing facility in Danville, Plachcinski said.

“We just know they are interested,” Plachcinski said.

Puvak would not comment for this story.

Council’s vote Tuesday night also aligned the city’s definition of cannabis, with that of the state, to include the flower, or the “bud.”

Dharma is one of four companies in Virginia permitted to grow and distribute cannabis for medical use, Puvak wrote. The company holds a pharmaceutical processor permit for Health Service Area III, spanning the area from central Virginia to the southwest part of the state at the Tennessee border.

State law allows Dharma to establish up to six dispensing facilities in its service area, Puvak wrote.

“As a result, the applicant is the only provider that can establish dispensing facilities in [the health service area], which includes the city,” Puvak wrote.

Dharma operates dispensaries in Abingdon and Salem, and plans to open four additional locations, Puvak wrote.

“The applicant has identified the city as an ideal location for a dispensing facility that is accessible to patients located in the southeastern portion of HSA III as well as patients who live in the city,” he wrote. “Having dispensing facilities spread across the applicant’s license territory allows better access to the communities that are served and reduces the distance that patients must travel to obtain cannabis for medical use.”

Medical marijuana became legal in Virginia in July 2020 and is used to treat pain, nausea and other symptoms. It is used by patients with Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and seizures, glaucoma and other conditions.

A state law legalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana went into effect in July.

Danville Register & Bee | John Crane