Navigating Virginia’s Cannabis Cultivation Industry in the Midst of Legalization

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Contributor, Benzinga
March 8, 2023

As the cannabis industry continues to rapidly expand, new markets are emerging each year through the passage of legal cannabis legislation or ballot referendums. This presents an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs and small business owners to tap into an international, high-growth industry with a ton of potential. 

By taking the time to do your research and stay up-to-date on the latest Virginia laws and regulations, you can position yourself to be ahead of the competition when full legalization comes into effect. This means being ready to start cultivating as soon as it becomes legal, without any delays or setbacks due to regulatory issues.

Under current Virginia law, adults 21 and over can have up to an ounce of cannabis on them or grow up to four plants in their homes. The state is having trouble agreeing on the legal retail market. Some senators in support of the bill recognize the gray area and trouble this creates. It’s legal to possess, but there is nowhere to legally purchase. 

In February 2021, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that would fully legalize cannabis for adult use. Originally, the law was set to take effect on July 1, 2024, and would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and to cultivate up to four plants per household for personal use. The law would also create a regulatory framework for the production and sale of cannabis products. In February of 2023, the Virginia legislative session ended in a stalemate and failed to establish a legal retail market. As a result, Virginia finds itself in a state of "weed purgatory" as lawmakers continue to debate the issue without reaching a consensus.

The July 2024 date is no longer a go for the industry. Supporters are still pushing for a legal retail market, since small amounts of possession are legal. It’s likely the issue won’t be addressed again until the 2024 General Assembly session, but the legislature could look entirely different. All 140 assembly seats are on the ballot for the November election, which means all future hope is not lost. 

Understanding Commercial Cannabis Cultivation and Processing in Virginia

In Virginia, commercial cannabis cultivation, growth and processing is the art and science of producing high-quality, top-notch cannabis products on a large scale. But it's not just about growing plants — it's about creating a sustainable and profitable business that meets the demands of the market while complying with state regulations.

To achieve this goal, commercial cannabis cultivators in Virginia use advanced techniques to cultivate cannabis plants indoors or outdoors, carefully controlling the environment to optimize growth and maximize yield. This process includes managing lighting, temperature, humidity and other factors to create the ideal conditions for each stage of the plant's life cycle.

That's not all — the Virginia cannabis cultivation industry also involves processing and refining the harvested plants into a variety of products, such as oils, tinctures and edibles. This objective requires skilled technicians and specialized equipment to extract and purify the active compounds in the plant, such as THC and CBD. 

Virginia has strict regulations for cannabis cultivation businesses, including rules around pesticide use, testing and labeling requirements and tracking and reporting requirements, so it's important for business owners to ensure they know all the requirements. 

Difference Between Medical and Recreational Cannabis Cultivation

Medical cannabis cultivation and recreational cannabis cultivation differ in a few key ways. Medical cannabis is grown for the purpose of treating various diseases, ailments and conditions that may be present in individuals. The plants grown under this practice are typically higher in CBD content and lower in THC content, due to the fact that CBD has been proven to have medical benefits while THC can cause unwanted side effects. On the other hand, recreational cannabis is grown with the intention of being consumed by those who are looking for an altered state of mind. The THC content is typically much higher than what you would find in medical cannabis, while the CBD levels are usually lower.

When it comes to starting a cannabis cultivation or processing business, you’ll have several advantages over medical cultivators. For starters, if the law passes you could tap into a much larger market for recreational cannabis users compared to those seeking treatment with medical marijuana. 

Legal recreational marijuana businesses enjoy more freedom when it comes to designing unique product lines for their customers — from edibles and concentrates to custom strains — something that can’t be done as easily with medicinal products because of restrictions placed on them by government regulatory bodies. 

Since recreational weed has a larger demand from buyers who are willing to pay more money per unit because of its greater potency, growers can potentially make more profit off each sale than they would with medical marijuana.

Virginia Demographics for Cannabis Cultivation Businesses

To best take advantage of the demographics of Virginia cannabis users for finding locations, advertising and necessary funding, it is important to first assess what types of customers are using cannabis. In general, the largest demographic of cannabis users in Virginia is men between the ages of 18 to 34. 

Those aged 25 to 44 account for a significant portion of cannabis users in Virginia and may be more likely to seek higher-quality products with longer-lasting effects. 

When seeking funding for businesses related to cannabis sales or production in Virginia, consider sources that understand the market demand and legal landscape surrounding this product type. Some businesses are specifically dedicated to providing financial services related to the cannabis industry on a national level as well as regional ones in Virginia itself.

In terms of advertising and marketing strategies for reaching potential customers, using online platforms such as social media can provide an effective way for companies involved with selling cannabis products to reach an audience quickly and efficiently within targeted geographic regions like Virginia. When designing campaigns, remember the target demographics include young adults between 18 and 34 years old and keep an eye out for regulations regarding advertising content-specific restrictions within this product type in the state itself.

License and Facility Costs for Cannabis Cultivation Businesses in Virginia

The cost of a Virginia cannabis cultivation license varies depending on the type and size of the operation. As of 2023, the initial application fee for a cultivation license is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 fee for each cultivation facility. Along with the fees, annual renewal fees and inspection fees must be paid to maintain the license.  Once the application is approved, you’ll pay a $60,000 Pharmaceutical Processor Permit fee. Although you won't be growing medical-grade marijuana, all growers are required to possess this permit, issued by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy.

The license is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to starting a Virginia cannabis cultivation business. While it may seem like a significant expense upfront, it is ultimately a drop in the bucket compared to the larger costs of building and equipping a cultivation facility and operating a successful business. 

Cannabis is illegal on a federal level, so cultivators cannot just walk into a bank and ask for a loan. Banks and credit unions typically are unable to lend, even if the applicant has a great credit score and meets all traditional business loan requirements. Fortunately, there are options. Specialized lenders focus exclusively on cannabis business lending and can help businesses get the money needed to purchase real estate, buy equipment, etc. 

Building Expense

The cost of acquiring or leasing a suitable facility to grow cannabis can be one of the largest expenses associated with starting a cultivation business. This requirement includes the cost of building or retrofitting a facility to meet the specific needs of a cannabis grow operation, as well as any ongoing costs associated with utilities, rent or mortgage payments. 

The cost of purchasing a 1,200-square-foot warehouse in Virginia is around $35,000, and a 50,000- to 60,000-square-foot warehouse can easily cost $1 million or more. A build-out and improvements to get the facility ready for growing will run around $60,000. 

If you opt to rent, you can expect to spend about $50,000 to $100,000 a year. 

For outdoor growing, the median startup costs are $10 to $17 per square foot. Greenhouse and combination grows average $50 a square foot. 


The cost of equipment for a basic indoor cultivation facility ranges from $100,000 to $500,000, depending on the size of the business.

This equipment includes items such as grow lights, irrigation systems, ventilation and air conditioning systems, dehumidifiers, nutrient delivery systems and various monitoring and control systems. Any additional features or customizations to the equipment can significantly raise the cost. 

To put equipment costs into perspective, an HVAC system for indoor growing can cost upwards of $300,000 for a 5,000-square-foot space. 


Virginia cannabis cultivation businesses must be outfitted with a surveillance system that covers all areas of the facility, monitored by a licensed security firm with secure locks and doors installed throughout. 

The cost of security equipment and monitoring for a cannabis cultivation business depends on a variety of factors. The size of the facility and the types of equipment chosen can all have an effect on the overall cost. Generally, large-scale commercial operations require more advanced surveillance systems such as high-definition cameras, motion sensors and access control systems. 

In addition to the cameras that can cost thousands of dollars, the installation costs range from $10,000 up to $300,000 for larger-scale systems in cultivation centers.


Cannabis cultivation businesses need to factor in the cost of staff as an expense each year to remain profitable and viable. Aside from the costs associated with hiring new employees such as background checks, drug tests and uniforms, you’ll face ongoing expenses associated with keeping staff employed by the business. These costs include salary and wage costs, vacation pay, sick time, health insurance premiums and payroll taxes. Your cash outflow can add up quickly and should be a major consideration when budgeting for staff expenses each year. 

Employee training costs must also be taken into account to ensure that the staff is knowledgeable about cannabis cultivation. Training costs may include seminars and workshops, online courses or training materials for new hires to ensure that they have the skills necessary to do their jobs effectively and safely.

Like every business expense, the staffing costs for a cannabis cultivation business also vary widely depending on the size of the operation and the specific job roles and responsibilities of the employees. Here are some estimated staffing costs for different roles in a cannabis cultivation business:

  • Cultivation manager: $70,000-$120,000 per year
  • Head grower: $60,000-$100,000 per year
  • Trimmers/harvesters: $25,000-$40,000 per year
  • Budtenders: $25,000-$35,000 per year
  • Sales representatives: $50,000-$70,000 per year
  • Security personnel: $30,000-$50,000 per year
  • Administrative staff: $30,000-$50,000 per year

Potential Financial Benefits of Recreational Cannabis Cultivation Business

Despite the high up-front costs, owning a recreational cannabis cultivation business in Virginia can be a profitable venture once fully legalized. 

High Demand

The demand for high-quality flower is likely to skyrocket once it becomes legal to purchase cannabis. As a cultivator, you'll be in a prime position to supply the market with the goods, and that means plenty of green for your business. 

Large Profit Potential 

The booming legal cannabis industry is expected to reach over $30 billion by 2025. Get in early, and you could corner the market in your area.

Control Over Products and Pricing

The potential for huge profits is high because the demand for products continues to increase. As an owner of a cannabis cultivation business, you will have the opportunity to grow and sell your own cultivated crop rather than buying wholesale on the retail market. You will be able to control prices and quality and ultimately maximize profits from your sales. You could capitalize on additional revenue streams such as providing consulting services or leasing out space within the facility for use by other cannabis-related businesses.

Job Creation

The cannabis industry is expected to create thousands of new jobs in Virginia, from cultivation and processing to retail and delivery. By starting your own cultivation business, you'll not only be creating jobs for others but could build a stable and profitable business.

The benefits of launching a grow business include the ability to establish meaningful relationships with local vendors and clients, as well as build a sustainable customer base through innovative marketing tactics. 

High Costs Could Yield High Rewards

Although Viriginia hasn’t fully legalized retail cannabis in 2023, it’s not too early to start working on laying the groundwork for your business. By building your knowledge, perfecting your techniques, and establishing your brand, you can hit the ground running when the industry opens up.

Starting a cannabis cultivation business in Virginia requires a significant commitment in terms of time and money. Obtaining the necessary permits, securing suitable real estate and purchasing equipment can be costly, and navigating the complex regulations that govern this industry can be difficult. By working with a specialized lender, you’ll be ready to fund a growing business as the legal landscape of the industry evolves.

Frequently Asked Questions


How much is a cultivation license in Virginia?


A cultivation license in Virginia costs $10,000. This fee covers the initial application, registration and annual renewal. The permit is $60,000.


How much money do you need to start a grow operation?


To start a grow operation in Virginia, you likely need $1 million or more. You must have access to or have purchased land or a facility, have an approved security plan and pay for ancillary services such as product testing and packaging. Other costs may include facility construction and build-out costs, equipment and supplies needed to run a successful operation and personnel costs.


What is a micro-cultivation license?


A micro-cultivation license is an additional type of cultivation license that allows individuals or companies to produce cannabis products on a smaller scale than what is typically seen with traditional large-scale operations.