GATE CITY — The commonwealth’s motto has long been “Virginia is for Lovers.” But Jacob Kessler and his team at GCVA Limited Company in Gate City believe that now, Virginia is for growers — specifically cannabis growers.
GCVA Limited Company is Gate City’s first cannabis store and is located at 103 Cleveland St. with a focus on indoor growing supplies. The business opened in 2022, following Virginia’s Cannabis Control Act in July 2021. The new laws legalized personal, private use of no more than one ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and older. The law also allows adults 21 and older to grow up to four plants per person.
Now, the new Gate City business has joined in on the new commonwealth industry.
“Our approach was to take the hardest challenge in the city and make that your cornerstone,” said Kessler, the store’s main grower and one of its four owners. “Everybody gravitated toward Bristol and Roanoke, but to me, you could zoom out the picture and look at Gate City. Economically this small chunk may not have it, but as a region it does.”
Kessler’s initial plan was only to become a state-certified cannabis cultivator on his recently obtained farm in Duffield. But to Kessler, the southwestern corner of the commonwealth feels a bit like a chance to share his extensive and formerly underground knowledge of cannabis and its industry.
“It’s been a long time that I haven’t been able to talk about what I do with people,” Kessler said, standing outside the brick building on Cleveland Street. “This is my chance to do it before it passes me. That’s how we wanted to approach it. If we don’t put our message out there, it’s up for interpretation.”
GCVA Limited Company offers indoor growing products such as soil, hydroponic kits, indoor planters and more. The store also offers ingestibles and novelty seeds. However, possibly the biggest misconception revolves around what the business doesn’t sell.
“The thing I want people to know is that we don’t sell THC,” Kessler said.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a molecule that serves as the main intoxicating ingredient in marijuana. It’s also still illegal to sell in Virginia.
Still the biggest obstacle might be the perception of the store.
“They’ve seen it done wrong,” Kessler said. “They’ve seen ‘lazy days’ and tie-dye flags and it turned them off to it. Anything cannabis they might associate with that. It seems like that’s the misrepresentation. They think we’re just here to sell pot to the community and it’s going to make it easier to get into our schools. This is what we want people to understand and not just as a company — this is a form of industry. This is no different than a cigarette or a beer. It should be regulated as such.”
Instead, Kessler hopes small towns like Gate City perceive its newfound cannabis freedoms in the commonwealth as an opportunity above all else.
“What I’ve noticed is when small towns have done it the right way, it can really inject life into that community from a revenue standpoint with tax breaks, fixing potholes, stuff like that,” Kessler said. “It takes someone in this industry to be completely transparent. We’re excited to pay our first business tax and do everything that way. Just seeing how town councils and small towns work, I’m excited to see how they allocate it.”
The town of Gate City has yet to discuss cannabis rules or regulations at the local level, but it’s a topic Mayor Bob Richards said he expects to tackle in the future.
“I’m sure we will (discuss it) because I’m sure it will be an upcoming thing. We are anticipating that. But it’s kind of new and it’s one of those things that cause a bit of controversy, especially in a conservative area. As long as (GCVA) are with the law, there shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve heard nothing but good so far.”
The store required no special zoning or any other approval from the town to open its doors. Kessler did, however, meet with town officials to introduce himself and the intentions of GCVA.
“The big fear was if we put ‘Gate City Cannabis’ on the sign, would it affect or counteract the tourism market they’re trying to create here?” Kessler said. “We are more than happy to accommodate that. We told them we would never put ‘Gate City’ and ‘cannabis’ together on a sign.
“As far as being part of the community, if you can’t hear all perspectives, you’re not really for the whole community. That’s the approach we wanted to take.”
Areas of Virginia are bursting with dispensaries and CBD shops since the new legalization. Gate City, however, might not be the first place you think of when opening a new cannabis store. But to Kessler, the agricultural nature of Southwest Virginia offers an opportunity that suits the store’s mission.
“It’s wild to me that such an agriculturally rich area like this didn’t really step up more to welcome it considering what tobacco did and then didn’t do for this area. It came in, brought it up and then left. Everybody is still feeling the weight of that. With this, they’re encouraging people to go to a dispensary and just pay them.”
Instead, Kessler hopes to offer education and his cannabis growing knowledge to the people in Southwest Virginia — people he sees as independent and ready to take to the industry.
“To me (the dispensaries) aren’t even touching the demographic of who’s here. These people do for themselves. They don’t take their cars to the shop; they fix them. These people are not going to go to dispensaries. They’re going to figure it out themselves. … We don’t care to be a commercial place. We aren’t set up for that or to be a pot shop. We can provide services. We can give away genetics and flowers. That’s the service we want to offer.”
Safety, however, is a big concern, Kessler said, specifically in states that just opted to legalize cannabis. That’s where Kessler hopes his 20 years of cannabis experience can be of service.
“If someone doesn’t put any knowledge behind it, you’re gonna have people that are growing mold, smoking it and ending up in the hospital. That happens a lot, especially when states flip. People take this new liberal freedom and they go wild with it. No one is there to direct them.”
The store also offers on-site cannabis testing through its Purpl Scientific machines that measure cannabis potency, chemical composition and plant quality. That, Kessler said, can help determine the overall health of local cannabis.
The store’s owners also plan to offer classes and various workshops addressing everything from using cannabis oil in the kitchen to supporting a grower community in its endeavors.
The region also lends itself to specific cannabis seeds, Kessler said. A white board leaning against a wall in the shop list various seed types that the store had recently run out of such as purple glue, bleu cheese, Russian Cream Assassin and AfGoo, which originated in Afghanistan, Kessler said, and can survive in fluctuating weather.
“We think we could be no different than a logging company where people have to go for certain types of a product like if you want poplar or maple,” Kessler said. “Certain regions produce certain things. So we think that we can be that for this region all the way from Roanoke west.
“We want to take this district and we want to put a light on it so people realize you can go party with the D.C. boys, but this side of the state grows awesome stuff.”
In the future, the GCVA owners look to consider a location on Jackson Street. Kessler also said he is interested in opening a comedy club venue in Gate City. And the store aims to open a community garden in the future. But for now, Kessler and his team aim to educate and serve the community in Gate City.
“There’s so much this place has to offer,” Kessler said, referring to Gate City and Scott County. “We just want to be able to bring a different demographic that has never been here or vacationed here, maybe a younger crowd that would have walked away from buying their first house here. We don’t think cannabis is the best, biggest, brightest thing to ever happen to a town. We just think that it should be to where you can walk by and choose to partake in it or not.”