Texas Cannabis Dispensary Opens Today Near Austin, But Don’t Expect To Find Pot Brownies

Photo Credit: Vernon Bryant

One of Texas’ first cannabis dispensaries opens today, but it looks nothing like the ones in states where recreational marijuana is legal.

At Compassionate Cultivation’s dispensary near Austin, customers won’t find marijuana to smoke or pot brownies and gummy bears to eat. One product is for sale: a specific kind of cannabis oil. Only Texans with intractable epilepsy can purchase it.

With its front desk, couches and chairs and piles of children’s books and magazines, the dispensary resembles a clinic or the waiting room of a doctor’s office, not a retail store. Registered patients and their family members can go there to buy cannabis oil or request a delivery by a company employee. But each patient must meet stringent state requirements, such as getting the approval of two physicians who are registered under the state’s Compassionate Use program.

Compassionate Cultivation expects to make the first sale of medical cannabis to a Texan at a dispensary today. Its facility and dispensary is in Manchaca, a small community about 12 miles southwest of Austin.

It is one of a growing number of businesses interested in cannabis in Texas, even though the state strictly limits cannabis products. There’s been a “green rush” around the country, as more than two dozen states have legalized medical marijuana and eight states and the District of Columbia have permitted recreational use.

A 6-year-old girl in Central Texas received the state’s first legal delivery of medical marijuana last week from Cansortium Texas, another cannabis company with a state license.

The dispensary’s opening is the latest step toward medicinal uses of cannabis in Texas. In 2015, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the Texas Compassionate Use Act, which allows companies to cultivate cannabis and turn it into products with a low level of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the compound associated with the plant’s high, but rich in cannabidiol or CBD, a compound used as treatment for epilepsy and other medical conditions.

Texas Department of Public Safety has issued licenses to three companies: Compassionate Cultivation, Cansortium Texas and Surterra Texas.

Compassionate Cultivation is the only Texas-based company to receive the license. It was founded by five business partners who live in Texas, including the company’s CEO Morris Denton.

When he started the business, Denton said he was intrigued by the chance to lead in an emerging Texas industry. But after he received phone calls and emails from patients suffering from seizures and parents seeking a treatment for their child, he said it became a mission.

“They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re people throughout the state of Texas who in some cases have had to go to other states, have had to take refuge in other states in order to get this medication,” he said. “And they want to come back.”

Sales at Compassionate Cultivation will start with cannabidiol or CBD tinctures. They come in a tamper-evident, child-resistant amber glass bottle, along with a syringe to measure doses. Each bottle contains cannabis oil that’s mixed with a fraction of coconut oil. Some have peppermint or cherry flavoring to make them more palatable.

The tinctures are typically taken by mouth. They come in two sizes: a 7.5 milliliter bottle for $105 or a 15 milliliter bottle for $200. Health insurance doesn’t cover the medicine, so patients pay out-of-pocket with cash and credit cards.

At the dispensary’s front desk, Cullen Vujosevic will answer phone calls, greet patients and answer questions. The 31-year-old Texas native and dispensary manager has a special understanding of the cannabis business and the plant’s medicinal uses. About eight years ago, he was diagnosed with intractable epilepsy. After struggling with seizures, his Texas neurologist gave him advice. “She whispered in her office, ‘You need to try medical cannabis,” he said.

He tried the cannabis oil and said he saw a noticeable drop in seizures. He could go to college classes. He no longer had nausea and side effects that accompanied other medications. He moved to Santa Fe, where he could take legal doses of cannabis oil and eventually began working at a dispensary there.

But when he heard about Texas’ changing laws, he reached out to Denton. He said he was eager to return home.