Technologies of Compassion
Texas’ first walk-in medical cannabis dispensary provides high-tech CBD oil under the most stringent rules imaginable, showing everyone how well it can be done.
Texas has never been cannabis friendly. As far back as the 1960s, we would warn each other not to get busted in Texas, where possession of even the tiniest amount could send you to prison for up to 50 years. So, the passage of the Compassionate Use Act (CUA) in 2015 and the licensing of three dispensaries in 2017 were major triumphs of political persuasion and say a lot about the growing body of clinical evidence for cannabis as medicine.
According to NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), all but four states (Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas) have some medical cannabis program either running or in development. Like most other states of the old Confederacy, the Texas law lists only severe, intractable epilepsy as a qualifying condition. Interestingly, six counties in Texas, all in or surrounding major urban areas, have passed local cannabis decriminalization laws. Texas’ first walk-in dispensary is in one of those counties.
Compassionate Cultivation (CC), based in Manchaca, southwest of Austin, opened its doors on February 8, 2018. As well as delivering all over the state, it is the only authorized walk-in store and the only dispensary that is fully Texas-owned and -operated. All three dispensaries must operate seed-to-sale, doing all the growing (indoor), processing and distributing, as well as providing security, and must follow the strict state requirement that their oil tincture contain .5% or less THC and 10% or more CBD.
When asked about the 2017 application process, Compassionate Cultivation CEO Morris Denton said, “Oooh, man!” He explained that an exhaustive juried process assessed all aspects of the proposed operation. “We had to leap a high bar, demonstrating proven capacities in resources, technologies and experience in building a for-profit business, and guarantee we could withstand two years of financial losses, too.” On the positive side, Morris explained that the tight restrictions require them to maintain a “gold standard” in every aspect of the business. In May, that high standard brought Compassionate Cultivation a coveted A-list Award for New Business Start-ups from the Austin Chamber of Commerce, according to the Austin Business Journal. Perhaps the best accolades of all come from grateful parents. In May, one wrote that CC “drove from Austin to East Texas to deliver on a Saturday.” Another wrote in June that “you would never know this was a new business; they operate smoothly and efficiently.”
Asked how they accomplish this, Morris lauded their “supremely dedicated staff of high-caliber individuals” each a “deep expert in his or her domain, bringing best practices into a cannabis application.” According to CC’s website, their director of cultivation is a professional agronomist, and the co-founders are a corporate attorney and a “wildcatter” (Morris’ words), a classic Texas oilman. Morris Denton himself brings “three decades of leadership experience in technology, product and brand marketing.” And their Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Karen Keough, is “a board-certified pediatric neurologist who specializes in treating intractable epilepsy at Child Neurology Consultants of Austin.”
Dr. Keough is a very active presence at CC. Morris mentioned that she “came on board very early and was very important in developing their products.” She writes moving and very informative blog entries at the CC website and has explained her journey from CBD skeptic to confident prescriber. The website includes her comprehensive resources for physicians, including a candid FAQ section.
Their website, TexasOriginalCC.com, reflects the enormous care taken at every step of the company’s formation. Besides the resources for doctors just mentioned, you’ll find patient FAQs posted in Spanish as well as English, a 10% discount for military families, and a nifty “store” where you can buy swag like T-shirts and decals. Those purchases support the Compassionate Use Patient Assistance Program, created in partnership with the Texas Epilepsy Foundation, designed to help make their products even more affordable.
And affordable they are, especially in contrast to the array of pharmaceuticals conventionally prescribed for severe epilepsy. The CC tincture, made from the strains Charlotte’s Web and Ringo’s Gift, costs 13 cents per milligram, meaning somewhere between $150 and $600 per month, depending on body size and dosage recommended. Compare that to the expected $2,500 per month for the recently FDA-approved Epidolex, the first pharmaceutical preparation available in the U.S.
The tech side of Compassionate Cultivation is provided by Xabis, offering state-of-the-art extraction and analysis expertise in CC’s million-dollar-plus labs. Their two top officers hold Ph.D.s in Chemistry. The closed-loop CO2 extraction method recaptures more than 90% of the gas used, and their comprehensive purification/distillation process results in a finished product that’s up to 99% pure. Each batch is then subjected to extensive chemical analysis, not because there’s any concern about content, but to be able to provide the public with exact data. You can read the reports at their website.
Morris said Compassionate Cultivation’s clients range in age from babies “under one year to [adults] in their sixties. The majority are children. For some, epilepsy diminishes over time.” He spoke of the “amazing story” of one patient, age 16, who suffered weekly debilitating seizures but, under treatment, went on to enjoy summer camp and college. “She even got her driver’s license.”
The folks at Compassionate Cultivation, like their collaborators and colleagues in the Drug Policy Alliance, NORML and the Minority Cannabis Business Association, see this rigorous entry into the market as producing a positive ripple effect—building trust among legislators and the public, reducing cannabis stigma and paving the way for more illnesses to be included in the Compassionate Use Act. Morris said, “We can’t afford to screw up. Now is the time to demonstrate the effectiveness and integrity of the [CUA] program. That will provide solid arguments for increasing the program’s scope and reach.” Many of us are rooting for them to continue to succeed, but no one put it better than a joyous client who wrote in June, “Incredibly helpful. Going on 13 weeks seizure free!”