Some may choose to see Texas’s highly limited medical marijuana program as a small step in America’s march toward cannabis acceptance.
Not Morris Denton.
Denton is the CEO of Austin's Compassionate Cultivation, one of three dispensaries in Texas recently licensed to produce the one form of cannabis permitted under the state’s Compassionate Use Act – a high-CBD oil that can only be prescribed to those suffering from a rare form of intractable epilepsy.
It may seem like an extremely narrow market, but Denton sees beyond that.
“It’s a huge first step. It’s an historic first step,” Denton tells Civilized.
“It’s a start in a large state that has historically been conservative, a state that is just now starting to understand the potential benefits of this medication and wants to explore that potential.”
And it’s up to companies like Compassionate Cultivation to help with just that.
Along with fellow licensed dispensaries Cansortium Texas and Surterra Texas, Compassionate Cultivation is required by law to be a vertically integrated company whose facility must go “from seed to sale.”
“That means we grow, we cultivate, we harvest, we extract, we process, we test, we manufacture and we dispense all under one roof,” says Denton, adding that, at this rate, the company could start distributing product by late 2017 or early 2018. “So far the plants are doing really well and they’re growing quickly, but obviously you can’t take a shortcut with Mother Nature.”
Denton recognizes the enormous amount of responsibility that comes with such a task – particularly in a part of the country as traditional as Texas.
He says that despite research showing that more than 80 percent of Texans support legalizing cannabis in some form, the state’s legislators “want to see the proof that cannabis-based medicine can have a positive impact on people with a variety of different conditions” before considering any enhancement of the existing medical marijuana program, which was first signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2015.
“How often do you get a chance in your career, in your life, to participate in something that has the potential to be transformational? ... This has the potential to truly transform a lot of things that are happening in this state,” says Denton.
“If we run a solid business, if we do it with integrity and we create great medicine and that medicine has an impact, then I think Texans and the legislators will take notice and give fair consideration to broadening the list of accepted conditions [for medical marijuana].”
There’s a special honor, adds Denton, in being the only dispensary of the three to receive licenses by the state that’s actually based in Texas. While the other two companies have their headquarters in Florida, everyone involved in Compassionate Cultivation hails from the Lone Star State.
“Being native Texans ourselves, we want to do an extraordinary job in representing Texas and in serving Texans because they’re our neighbours and they’re our families. They’re who we are, so we’re taking it personally,” Denton says.
This aspect of the job really hits home for Denton whenever he gets the opportunity to meet with those who will directly benefit from the medicine being produced by dispensaries like Compassionate Cultivation.
Such an occasion presented itself this past weekend, when he attended the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas’s annual fundraiser and met “a lot of kids and a lot of families who deal with this [illness] day in and day out, hour in and hour out.”
Needless to say, it was a deeply humbling experience.
“They’re ready. They’re excited. They’ve been searching for solutions, and many of them have had to look outside the state for solutions,” says Denton. “Our message to them is: we’re almost there. There’s hope in their eyes and there’s belief in their eyes and we want to deliver on that promise.”