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CASEY: Counting down the days on a Virginia medical marijuana license

CASEY: Counting down the days on a Virginia medical marijuana license

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We last took up the subject of Virginia medical marijuana licenses early in August.

By then, I had scored an official cannabis-use recommendation from a Virginia-licensed physician. That required a two minute phone call and it cost $135.

Next, I paid the commonwealth $50 as my medical-weed license fee, which brought my total investment up to $185.

Then I sent a copy of the teledoctor’s recommendation and an image of my driver’s license (which established identity, age and address) to the Virginia Board of Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Processor program.

Which brings us to Aug. 12, when I got a confirmation email from suburban Richmond.

“The Board is currently receiving a high volume of applications,” it said. “All efforts will be made to process applications within 30 business days of receipt.”

Did that mean I could expect my license by Sept. 24, which was the 30th business day? Yippee, I thought. Then I learned the answer to that question was “no.”

Turns out, the operative word in the email’s second sentence is “process.” We’re dealing with a bureaucracy, after all. And in the context of a Virginia medical marijuana license application, the verb “process” is defined as “to ascertain whether one meets the qualifications.”

It also turns out that “issuance” of the license is a different step, which has its own defined waiting period.

On the 23rd business day — Sept. 15 — another email from the Board of Pharmacy showed up in the old inbox.

“Your application and supporting documents have been reviewed and approved. A registration card will be mailed out to you,” it said. Then came the kicker: “Please allow up to 21 business days for it to arrive.” (It also included my medical marijuana registration number, which does me no good without the actual card.)

Seriously? I have to wait 21 more business days? That suggests I might not have my card until Oct. 15. And if the experience of a friend in Blacksburg is any indication, it also might not arrive by then. (Because he’s shy about being known as a weed whacker, he shall remain nameless.)

His application was processed and approved Aug. 12. Today is the 29th business day since then. His license is more than a full week late. He’s running out of patience. The poor guy must be jonesing.

Curious about the backlog, I contacted the Virginia Department of Health Professions, of which the Board of Pharmacy is a part. Here’s what I learned from Diane Powers, the department’s spokeswoman:

My friend and I are two of 31,551 adult patients registered with the program, she said. That work out to roughly 3.5 registrants for every 1,000 Virginia residents.

As of Sept. 10, there were also 205 parents or guardians who had registered to purchase medical weed on behalf of their children.

The Board of Pharmacy maintains no records indicating the number of applications awaiting processing, or those that have been denied. So it’s hard to get a decent picture of how swamped the license-pipeline is.

The board currently has three workers processing medical marijuana licenses, and it’s looking to hire three more. And, the agency “is actively acquiring a new licensing software system that will facilitate a more efficient licensure process,” Powers said in an email.

Little of the above offers any clue as to when my friend and I can expect to receive our licenses. But at that time we’ll be able to go shopping at RISE on West Main Street in Salem, the local medical-pot dispensary.

Among other things, they’re currently selling (to registered license-holders only) edibles at $50 to $55 for a 10 pack, “concentrate” (which resembles hashish) for $90 per gram and four grades of medical weed: CrescendO, Gshers, Jack Frost and something called Purple Pineapple.

The list prices on the latter are $65 for 3.5 grams — that’s an eighth on an ounce. All four are currently “on sale” for $55.25 per eighth-ounce. That sale price works out to $442 per ounce. (By the way, RISE accepts cash only, but there’s an ATM on the premises.)

If those prices strike you as high, join the club. You can see some of the same cost angst in the reviews on the company’s website.

For CrescendO, one verified purchaser wrote: “These Prices are robbery!!! You can get higher quality flower for $100 an ounce in Colorado. This is Insanity. I feel like I’m in middle school and getting ripped off by the seniors.”

A purchaser of Jack Frost called it, “Best out of the nug[s] I tried from [gLeaf, which is the brand]. Outrageously priced and absolutely not worth it.”

My son in Berkeley, California, reports that 3.5 grams of high-potency recreational weed costs $10 at the state-licensed dispensary near his apartment — or $2.80 per gram. Ounces go for less than $80, Zach said.

In other words, so far I’ve paid $185 for the “privilege” of vastly overpaying for legal weed, at some point in the future, when and if I ever receive my license.

Virginia ought to be able to do better, eh?

Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or dan.casey@roanoke.com. Follow him on Twitter:.

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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