Efforts to open a marijuana dispensary in Midlothian have been stymied by the Chesterfield government.
The county recently rejected a building permit for Green Leaf Medical’s planned dispensary at 11601 Midlothian Turnpike, which is a former T-Mobile store near Chesterfield Towne Center. The county’s argument is that it can’t approve the permit because cannabis is illegal on the federal level.
Phil Goldberg, president of Green Leaf (stylized “gLeaf”), said the county’s move has put the project on hold for the time being while it appeals the decision. The company, which is the only state-sanctioned seller of medical marijuana in the Richmond region, already operates two other dispensaries locally: one in the city of Richmond and one in Henrico County.
Green Leaf’s appeal is slated to be heard by the Board of Zoning Appeals in early November. The board will consider whether to uphold county staff’s decision on the matter.
Goldberg said he was hopeful Green Leaf would be able to secure the permit and the project would be able to move forward.
“Assuming that gets worked out in the next six weeks, we’re probably looking at a late February opening,” Goldberg said in an interview this week. “They have been receptive (to our subsequent discussion), but that doesn’t mean they’ll change their minds.”
Though Virginia has legalized the use of medical marijuana as well as recreational marijuana, Deputy County Administrator Jesse Smith said in an interview Monday that staff determined that the federal illegality of cannabis prevents Chesterfield from approving a building permit for a business that intends to sell marijuana in the county.
“Because marijuana is not legal on the federal level, we don’t have the ability to approve it,” Smith said. “From a land-use and zoning perspective, there isn’t a path forward for us.”
Smith reiterated the same argument made in the Aug. 10 letter he penned to deny the requested permit, which cited deference to federal law.
“It is our understanding that (Green Leaf) intends to use this store to dispense marijuana,” Smith wrote in his letter. “We are unable to continue processing this permit as the proposed use is currently illegal under federal law and not permitted by the Chesterfield County Code.”
A few weeks later, Green Leaf’s attorney Bernard Goodman of Virginia law firm Dunlap Bennett, and Ludwig in a letter disputed the basis of the county’s decision and asked that the decision be reversed. He argued the county must operate in a manner consistent with state law, which permits the sales and use of medical cannabis as well as the use (but not sale) of recreational marijuana.
“Virginia Code §54.1-3442.6 allows (medical cannabis operators) to obtain permits for the purposes of the production and dispensing of cannabis products. Moreover, the possession of marijuana for up to one ounce has been decriminalized,” Goodman wrote in the Sept. 1 letter. “Chesterfield County’s decision to reject Green Leaf’s permit, ostensibly based on the federal Controlled Substances Act, fails to remain in lockstep with the rest of the Commonwealth. The County has cited no local ordinance to support its decision, and its decision stands explicitly in conflict with Virginia state law.”
The Green Leaf appeal would be the second cannabis-related case heard by the Board of Zoning Appeals since recreational cannabis was legalized in Virginia in July 2021, Smith said.
A Chester CBD store was recently hit with a zoning violation notice because it operated a bring-your-own marijuana lounge on its premises. Smith said the board upheld the determination when it considered the store’s appeal in September, and that the store no longer offers the marijuana lounge.
“The climate has been changing and everyone is trying to figure out what it means,” Smith said.
Green Leaf had hoped to open the Midlothian dispensary this year.
The company’s planned Carytown outpost (which carries the branding of Green Leaf parent company Columbia Care’s retail brand Cannabist) is set to open later this month pending an inspection from state regulators.
Goldberg said construction is underway on a former Burger King in Colonial Heights for a dispensary that’s planned to open early next year.