Today is a historic day for Texas. A day Kaitlyn Swonke never thought she’d see come. Compassionate Cultivation, the first medical marijuana dispensary in the state, opens southwest of Austin Thursday.
“It’s been a difficult journey,” said Swonke, 21.
Eyewitness News first met Kaitlyn in 2015, one year after she was diagnosed with intractable epilepsy. Her uncontrolled seizures have landed Kaitlyn in the hospital more times than she can count. She’s undergone six brain surgeries and countless prescription drug changes.
“When epilepsy hits a household, it affects everyone in the house,” said Kellie Swonke, Kaitlyn’s mom.
Traditional medicine hasn’t help control Kaitlyn’s seizures. But now, she has new hope: Medical marijuana.
“I’m so excited. It means I can come off all my medications, or even just one!” Kaitlyn said, talking to ABC13 at her Spring home.
Thursday, the first medical marijuana dispensary opens in Texas. Compassionate Cultivation is located in Manchaca, about 25 minutes south of downtown Austin. They will only sell one product: Low level THC cannabis oil that will not get you high.
“We are entering our vegetative room,” Taylor Kirk said, as he walked an ABC13 crew into a room filled with dozens of baby marijuana plants growing under bright green light. Kirk supervises all the cultivation at the dispensary. He gave a tour of the grow process.
Currently, they have five rooms that house medical marijuana plants. Four months ago, on Halloween, they planted the first seed. It was the day Compassionate Cultivation received their medical marijuana license from the state, thanks to the Texas Compassionate Use Act.
Under the bill, the only people who legally get a prescription and purchase the oil are those with intractable epilepsy, like Kaitlyn. Perspective patients must live in Texas, visit one of 17 state-approved doctors and get approved by a second doctor. There are five doctors in Harris County. Check the list for physicians near you.
The doctor enters a prescription into a statewide database and one can pick it up at a dispensary. Compassionate Cultivation delivers anywhere in Texas three days a week for $25.
“When I tell people this is happening in Texas, they’re like, ‘Are you kidding me? Texas?'” said Garret Nicodemus, COO. “I think more and more people are getting on board with it.”
As of Dec. 15, 2017, DPS has issued three dispensing organization licenses: Cansortium Texas was licensed Sep. 1, 2017; Compassionate Cultivation was licensed Oct. 31, 2017; and Surterra Texas was licensed Dec. 15, 2017.
“To be able to help people, that’s something I’ve not been able to do in my career before,” Kirk said, leading us to another grow room.
Inside Compassionate Cultivation, it looks more like a Pottery Barn magazine than a dispensary. The small waiting room has white walls with gray furniture.
“It feels like a doctor’s office, very much so, in that regard,” said Cullen Vujosevic, who mans the front desk.
No bottles of cannabis oil are shelved in the open.
The place operates like a pharmacy, not a smoke shop. Nicodermus hopes that changes the way Texans think about medical marijuana.
“By highly regulating it, by ensuring that the products going out the door have to meet certain specifications, you make the confidence level for both the patient and prescribers that much higher,” Nicodermus said.
As for Kaitlyn and her mother, they believe this is just the beginning of medical marijuana acceptance in Texas. They would like to see doctors have more control over the THC level allowed in cannabis oil. Right now, the government mandates oil have .5 percent THC. That amount is different from state to state. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical that makes you feel high.
“But it’s a good first step,” Kellie Swonke said.
ABC13 reached out to Governor Greg Abbott about the dispensary opening. His office did not immediately respond with our request for comment. But in 2015, when he signed the Compassionate Use Act, he opposed blanket legalization of marijuana, as well as what he called use of “conventional marijuana” for medical purposes.
In 2015, the Texas Sheriff’s Association published a lengthy report with their take on medical marijuana. They say it needs to be studied more to see exactly how it helps kids with epilepsy.