New Harvest Botanicals master grower and lead processor BJ Becker hard at work on a recent Friday in the business's processing facility.

New local company to apply for one of just 10 available licenses to grow, process medical marijuana in W.Va.

BUCKHANNON – An Upshur County business is partnering with a multi-state CBD expert to apply for one of the first licenses to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana in the Mountain State.

Owners of New Harvest Botanicals, Jason and Jamie Queen, recently announced they’ll be working with Dr. John Powers, a businessman and researcher based in Baltimore, Maryland who has experience in pharmaceutical manufacturing and medical product development, to apply for licenses to grow and process medicinal marijuana at the old Armory on Route 20 South.

Three separate licenses must be obtained from the state of West Virginia’s Office of Medical Cannabis, which operates under the umbrella of the Bureau for Public Health and W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources.

The group is also applying for a permit to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Buckhannon. If they successfully obtain the required licenses, they plan to open an indoor marijuana growing and processing facility at the old Armory called Armory Pharmaceuticals.

Senate Bill 386, which was signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice in 2017, created the Medical Cannabis Act, which, as of July 1, 2019, allowed for cannabis to be used for certified medical uses by West Virginia residents with serious medical conditions. Unlike recreational cannabis, the law limits medical marijuana to pills, oils, topicals like ointments and creams and tinctures, and can’t be smoked, according to the state Bureau for Public Health’s website.

The Queens opened New Harvest Botanicals in 2019, and this past summer, harvested their first growing season’s worth of hemp. Their team of 10 full-time employees is now processing extracting CBD oil, or cannabidiol oil, at a location just off Route 33 East several miles outside city limits.

But in November 2019, when the state announced it would be accepting applications for licenses to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana, the Queens decided it made the most sense to collaborate with Powers to form Armory Pharmaceuticals.

“We are super excited to be partnered with a multi-state operator to try and obtain a license to operate in the new medicinal marijuana industry that was approved this past July,” the Queens said in a statement provided to media outlets. “We won’t be a ‘typical’ marijuana company. Our vision is to create botanically based, pharmaceutical-grade medicines that provide healthcare options which change people’s lives for better.”

The release says the focus will initially be on CBD, cannabidiol, and THC, two natural compounds found in plants of the Cannabis genus. THC is the psychoactive component in marijuana; CBD contains less than .3 percent THC.

Jason and Jamie Queen are urging residents to learn as much as possible about the medicinal benefits of marijuana and consider the possibility that THC- and CBD-based medicines could help combat the opioid addiction crisis in the Mountain State.

“We need people to get behind this industry and to see the benefits this plant can offer,” their statement continues. “It’s a plant, no different from ginseng, elderberries or apples trees. It was literally put on this earth for us [humans] to find ways to use it to our benefits. It’s not man-made like the drugs that we are pumping into our bodies everyday to help with anxiety, depression and pain.”

When My Buckhannon toured their hemp processing facility on a recent Friday, the Queens emphasized that people must be prescribed medical marijuana by a doctor — and that the THC will come in an oil form and won’t be smokable.

“For medical, it’s THC oil only,” Jason said. “A lot of people have the wrong idea that medical marijuana in West Virginia involves people being able to go into a dispensary, buy the flower and smoke it, but that’s not how it’s set up. It’s THC oil.”

Applying for licenses alone without the help of Powers would have been “nearly impossible for a small business,” Jason said, since businesses are required to have at least $2 million of capital – not assets – on hand. Additionally, the state’s Office of Medical Cannabis has already specified it will only issue 10 licenses to grow medical marijuana, 10 licenses to process it and up 100 licenses to dispense it.

“We are actually applying for all three so we can have a true seed-to-sale setup,” Jason said. “[Powers] asked us to partner with them, along with other entities, because we’re already processing hemp, and the same equipment would be used. If the armory was actually permitted one of the permits, we would actually be growing indoors there, processing in there and having a dispensary in Buckhannon.”

But in addition to financial and logistical reasons, the Queens said Powers’ vision is what drew them in.

“Other than the requirement for us to have [several million dollars in capital], the reason we jumped on board with them is because of their vision,” Jamie explained, “and their vision is to create a pharmaceutical-grade medicine that uses THC and CBD in conjunction with each other to fight the opioid addiction in our area. That is their first and foremost goal.”

“That is the sole reason that they’re after this license is to create a pharmaceutical-grade medicine that uses THC and CBD to fight this crisis that’s decimated the state,” she added. “We’re the local component. We already have relationships in place with West Virginia growers, so it’s a perfect little puzzle that goes together.”

Powers said he’ll be the president of Armory Pharmaceuticals if the state issues the licenses.

“We wanted to have a business that did everything from seed genetics to clinical trials to selling pharmaceutical-grade medicinal products,” Powers said in a phone interview with My Buckhannon. “Originally, the whole idea was to manufacture a cannabis product that did not include THC, but when this opportunity came up to apply in West Virginia, it’s something that we just decide to pursue.”

Powers said he wants residents to know Armory Pharmaceuticals’ first employees are local people who he’s made part of the management team, Mike Oldaker and Amanda Vezinat.

“They’ve been the boots on the ground in Buckhannon,” he said. “We’re also proud that we’re not doing this in Morgantown or Charleston. This is going to be headquartered in central West Virginia, and we appreciate everyone’s patience. We’re been planning this for about two years.”

Powers said if the licenses are granted, the old armory will undergo a $2 million renovation that will transform it into a state-of-the-art pharmaceutical manufacturing facility.

“This is bringing economic development to Upshur County,” he said. “This is bringing living-wage jobs using Wesleyan graduates and other universities to help bring talent to the area that’s going to grow this emerging business. This is a multi-billion-dollar business across the country, and West Virginia doesn’t have any of it yet.”

Powers said the end goal is to develop a non-addictive opiate alternative.

“What if you could take chemicals out of the plant, research those and find out what worked best for pain management and make a new drug containing those elements?” Powers said. “We want to develop an opiate alternative that’s non-addictive. That’s a huge goal of ours. It’s not just about growing it and selling it, it’s about drug discovery and development.”

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