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Coming Soon to Texas: Marijuana Grow-Ops

Cannabis plants grow at a facility in Oakland, California.EXPAND
Cannabis plants grow at a facility in Oakland, California.

Texas will soon have its first working grow facilities for cannabis.

Compassionate Cultivation, one of the companies licensed to grow and produce medicine under Texas’s limited medical marijuana program, said in a news release Wednesday it would start planting cannabis plants this week.

The announcement comes one day after the Texas Department of Public Safety gave Compassionate Cultivation final approval to participate in the Compassionate Use Program. Cansortium Texas was the first business to be approved, on September 1.

Under the medical marijuana law, the DPS has one final license to give out. That license will almost certainly go to Surterra, the other company — besides Compassionate Cultivation and Cansortium Texas — to receive conditional approval from the DPS earlier this year.

Texas legalized medical marijuana in 2015 as part of the Compassionate Use Act. The DPS has been setting up a regulatory structure for the program ever since, with the goal of providing medicine to patients by early 2018.

In its news release, Compassionate Cultivation said it would meet that timeline.

The Texas program is one of the strictest in the country. It’s open only to people with intractable epilepsy and only allows for medicine low in THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis. This “low-THC” model has become popular in states that were historically skeptical of medical marijuana reform, including Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

The Compassionate Use Program has generated its fair share of controversy. Texas capped the number of participating companies at three, prompting outrage from the dozens of other companies that applied. In August, the Texas Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group, sent formal complaint letters to DPS and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, accusing the state of implementing the program in bad faith by accepting too few companies.

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The cap on licenses isn’t the only controversial aspect of the law. The Compassionate Use Act also requires doctors to “prescribe” medical marijuana — a quirk shared by apparently no other programs in the United States. This detail has led many cannabis activists to worry about whether doctors can legally join. Heather Fazio, a spokeswoman for the Texas Marijuana Policy Project, told Houston Press in August her group was “concerned that doctors will be required to violate federal law to participate.”

In a follow-up email on Wednesday, Fazio said concerns around this language still hadn't been addressed. She predicted the Compassionate Use Act would face its first real challenges after December 8, when the Obama-era provisions protecting state medical marijuana programs are set to expire.

"Texas DPS was supposed to license three separate cannabis businesses by September 1," Fazio added. "Sixty days after their deadline, they are now 2/3 of the way to being compliant with their statutory obligation."

The Press previously interviewed Morris Denton, CEO of Compassionate Cultivation, as part of our in-depth look at these controversies. In a phone interview Wednesday, Denton said he had no additional comments but reiterated that Compassionate Cultivation would start serving patients by early 2018.

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