Ukrainian immigrants looking for a better future are turning to opportunities in medical cannabis in multiple states.

The Herald-Dispatch reports that a pair of Ukrainian immigrants are owners of a new dispensary opening up in Huntington, West Virginia. While one of the operators emigrated to the U.S. decades ago, they are proudly supporting their home country as it battles Russian forces.

Over 271,000 Ukrainian refugees have been admitted to the U.S. since Russia invaded Ukraine over a year ago, according to the Department of Homeland Security, as of Last February. 117,000 of those came via the Biden administration’s “Uniting for Ukraine” program, which allows Americans to sponsor Ukrainians.

Huntington Gardens co-owner Frederick Bartolovic, professor from Marshall University’s Art Department, and his partner Michelle Strader painted a Ukraine-inspired mural on the building with yellow and blue to show support for the homeland. Co-owner Rita Tsalyuk, a cannabis entrepreneur and native of Ukraine, left her country over 30 years ago, but is promoting awareness for the injustices of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Some immigrants are working their way into the cannabis industry in multiple states, including West Virginia. Kayla McClaskey told the paper that she is opening a new dispensary in Huntington for the Colorado-based multistate operator Yuma Way.

“Huntington Gardens at 1338 3rd Avenue should be open by mid-October,” McClaskey told The Herald-Dispatch. “We still haven’t made a decision on our hours of operation, but will finalize all of that [once] our inspections are complete and we are closer to opening.”

​​​​​​Senate Bill 386, signed into law on April 19, 2017, by Gov. Jim Justice, created the Medical Cannabis Act that allows for cannabis to be used for certified medical use. Huntington is the second-largest city in West Virginia, and dispensaries are just beginning to open in the city.

“I am sure that the blue and yellow in the middle of Herd Country must be odd to see for some, especially this time of the year with football season,” McClaskey said. “Rest assured though, it is not some bold representation of the Mountaineers of WVU, in fact the owners of the new dispensary are actually Ukrainian immigrants who have lived and built many successful businesses across Colorado, California, Michigan, New Jersey, and now here in West Virginia.”

Members of the Worldwide Cannabis Community Stand with Ukraine

High Times reported in April 2022 about the small but growing cannabis community in Ukraine that’s standing strong with their country as the nation resists the Russian invasion.

One group, Freedom March, has been advocating for progressive drug policy, leading demonstrations for the legalization of cannabis in Ukraine and defending the rights of medicinal cannabis patients since 2005. Freedom March member Nazarii Sovsun says the majority of the group’s activists are involved in the resistance to the Russian invasion in some fashion.

Freedom March has launched a fundraising campaign, Cannabis Stands with Ukraine, that is seeking donations from the worldwide cannabis community and freedom lovers everywhere. Donations to Freedom March will support the cause in conjunction with the Kyiv School of Economics Charitable Foundation, which has already purchased nearly $300,000 worth of emergency medical supplies for delivery to the region, according to wire transfer documentation and invoices provided by Sovsun.

Reform is taking place on Ukrainian soil as well. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last June called on lawmakers to legalize medical cannabis, saying the treatment could provide relief to those in the country suffering from the “trauma of war.” 

Huntington’s First Dispensary

Berner, as it turns out, was the first entrepreneur to open up a dispensary in the city, as part of his large dispensary chain Cookies, according to a Sept. 22 press release. Cookies opened their first West Virginia cannabis dispensary on Saturday, Sept. 23 at 2689 5th Ave. in Huntington.

Cookies is partnering with local retailer Country Grown Cannabis to open the Cookies dispensary at 2689 5th Ave in Huntington on Saturday, Sept. 23. Cookies is also collaborating with West Virginia professional growers Harvest Care Medical to cultivate Cookies’ acclaimed cannabis cultivars.

“We have been working hard to ensure the highest quality product is ready for the market, and we are excited to offer Cookies products to the growing number of West Virginia patients in need of medical cannabis,” Berner said in a press release. “We can’t wait for West Virginia patients to enjoy our world-class staple menu, and experience a cannabis dispensary like no other—an experience that Cookies is proud to bring to West Virginia.”

The opening of Huntington Gardens and the latest Cookies location provide choices for residents of the city who are taking advantage of West Virginia’s fairly recent medical cannabis law.

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