By Kristian Jaime
With 29 states already grappling with legalized marijuana in its numerous forms and varied uses, Texas entered the discussion with the Texas Compassionate Use Act of 2015.
Compassionate Cultivation, an Austin-based firm, has become one of state’s three licensed medical cannabis cultivator and the only dispensary. Just this month, it harvested its first mature crops to prepare them for distribution. Only those suffering from intractable epilepsy are currently the only patients open to the treatment.
Intractable epilepsy is a disorder in which the patients have been treated by two or more titrated antiepileptic drugs that have failed to control the seizures. Unlike marijuana commonly associated with recreational use, the chemical make-up of the medical strain is heavily regulated. Low THC cannabis is only provided in non-smokable forms. Low-THC medical cannabis must contain 10 percent or more cannabidiol (CBD) and not more than 0.5 percent THC.
“Texas is a conservative state with conservative leadership. I think they’re thoughtful and pragmatic,” said Morris Denton, CEO of Compassionate Cultivation. “When they see the benefit of what this medicine provides, they’ll see other conditions where this medication is known to to have an impact. Legislators will be logical and evaluate that.”
Regular visits by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) ensure compliance with the compendium of regulations. That even extends to the employees of the facility as all must pass a month-long RSD-52 federal background check to hire only those with spotless criminal records. Routine renewal of the employee licenses occurs every two years and includes a cursory review.
The Texas Legislature is using Compassionate Cultivation as a beta test of sorts of the the distribution and sale of medical marijuana. That includes deliveries of the product across the state by the company itself. Since the use of third party delivery services is expressly prohibited, the dispensary is logging plenty of miles. The medication is currently not covered by insurance and prescriptions can only be filled if it is approved by a qualified physician.
February 8, the firm will open the state’s first dispensary at 12701 Lowden Lane in Manchaca, Texas with initial hours from 3 pm to 7 pm. The sale of CBD oil extract will require the proof that the buyer is state-registered patient or legal guardian of one.
“This facility is a great start for anyone who wants to see how we do what we do,” Denton continued. “This is a medical facility where we grow a very specific type of plant in order to create a very specific type of medicine. People’s perceptions are changing about cannabis and its healing [properties].”
The rigorous testing on each crop to make sure it contains the legal ratios of THC and CBD begins from the early stages of growth. Even as individual plants are moved from one holding area to another, the harvesting process is meticulous and time consuming. The close quarters of the room where the mature plants are held leaves only narrow walkways with countless plants extending to the ceiling.
Harvesting entails removing the stems from the plant only to hung and dried in yet another room where the oil is extracted for the sale.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently took on the legalization of Marijuana in some states in a controversial memorandum citing “it is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission.”
Such a hard line at the federal level inevitably sets up a conflict in states that already boast both medical and recreational usage. Denton, for his part, is confident the work of Compassionate Cultivation will serve as positive example the creation and administration of medicinal cannabis.
“The fact that [the state] put the DPS, the largest law enforcement agency in Texas, as the regulatory body is indicative of how closely this is monitored,” Denton explained. “Those at the DPS have been extraordinary to work with and they have been very collaborative and proactive in terms of communication and overseeing our process.”
Thus far, transparency and integrity have been the mission for Compassionate Cultivation and, if their relationship with the DPS is any indication, they have achieved it.
In many ways, the granting of the company’s provisional license has opened the door to a number of surprises in the evolving industry. With numerous families reaching out for the final product, Denton hopes other conditions can benefit from the use of oil extract.
In preparation for the dispensary opening, Compassionate Cultivation has been working closely with Texas lawmakers, patients and advocacy groups, including the Texas Epilepsy Foundation, to ensure patients can safely and legally access cannabis oil products under the Texas Compassionate Use Act.