Politics & Government

New oil springs up in Texas — cannabis oil

Marijuana plants such as this one could soon be grown in Gunter, about 70 miles northeast of Fort Worth, if a planned facility is completed on time and receives state approval. This Feb. 17 photo shows plants grown at the home of Jeremy Nickle, in his backyard in Honolulu, Hawaii. Nickel, who owns Hawaiian Holy Smokes and is applying for a dispensary, grows a variety of strains and has a medical marijuana card.
Marijuana plants such as this one could soon be grown in Gunter, about 70 miles northeast of Fort Worth, if a planned facility is completed on time and receives state approval. This Feb. 17 photo shows plants grown at the home of Jeremy Nickle, in his backyard in Honolulu, Hawaii. Nickel, who owns Hawaiian Holy Smokes and is applying for a dispensary, grows a variety of strains and has a medical marijuana card. AP

Karley Davis has good days and bad days.

On the good ones, Karley, nearly 4, has a dozen small seizures that can be controlled with medicine.

On the bad ones, she may have 100 seizures, some so strong they can’t be controlled by heavy “rescue” drugs, and she has to be rushed to the hospital.

“We haven’t really seen any improvement,” Jeff Davis, her Fort Worth father, said softly.

But Davis and his wife, Shawna, say they believe help is just around the corner.

The Davises and other Texans asked lawmakers last year to legalize an oil called cannabidiol, or CBD, extracted from the marijuana plant to help tens of thousands of Texans who suffer from rare forms of epilepsy.

Lawmakers adopted the bill, and now a company plans to produce that oil in North Texas — at the old Gunter Cotton Gin, about 70 miles north of Fort Worth.

“From this location, we can reach Dallas and Fort Worth in an hour or less,” said Patrick Moran, CEO of AcquiFlow, a McKinney-based cannabis company. “We want to reach as many patients as we can possibly reach.

“We intend to get a lot of medicine out to a lot of people for a long time.”

That could put medicine that could change life for countless families within reach by next year.

“We will use the [cannabis] oil,” said Jeff Davis, whose daughter has Dravet syndrome, a type of intractable epilepsy. “Absolutely. That’s why we fought so hard to get the legislation passed. We are eager to see if we can try to give her some relief and wean her off the medication she’s taking.”

The Gunter Cotton Gin

Moran is ready to start revamping the 100-year-old Gunter cotton gin into a greenhouse facility to grow, process and distribute the cannabis oil — hoping to claim one of the few coveted licenses that should be awarded to do that no later than the summer of 2017.

AcquiFlow will spin off a subsidiary, Texas Cannabis, to oversee the process.

The company acquired the gin and 6.1 acres it sits on in January and is looking for an architect to design the facility. He wants to rehab the aging gin, repurposing as much as possible, and use some original gin equipment to create a small museum there.

We are working hard to make sure we get medicine to kids.

Patrick Moran, CEO of

Moran hopes to have the facility ready to go online in June 2017 when state officials issue the first licenses to manufacture and sell the product.

“It’s going to take a long time to get everything ready,” Moran said. “We have to be basically ready to turn on the lights before we can get a license.

“The goal is to finish roughly 12 months from now.”

He has presented his plan to officials and residents in Gunter, a town with a population of about 1,500 in Grayson County, explaining what he’s trying to build and do.

“If we got licensed June 1, 2017, we could put plants in the ground June 2,” he said. “Depending on the strain and other factors, that could take roughly 90 days to grow.

“Around September 2017, the first oil could be going out,” he said. “We are working hard to make sure we get medicine to kids.”

Cannabis oil in Texas

At the request of many parents last year, lawmakers approved the Texas Compassionate Use Act, Senate Bill 339. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the measure into law and it took effect June 1.

It makes cannabis oil legal for Texans with intractable epilepsy, which generally can’t be controlled by traditional drugs, if federally approved medication hasn’t helped.

It was the first time Texas lawmakers have legalized any form of cannabis, and they stressed that this is a very, very limited form of medical marijuana. Other marijuana-related proposals haven’t gone far in the Legislature.

This marijuana extract, lawmakers have said, lets a patient get the benefits without the high. Another component of the plant, THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient that produces a high.

This form of the marijuana plant, lawmakers have said, lets a patient get the benefits without the high.

Marijuana use, for medical or recreational reasons, is illegal in Texas and more than a dozen other states. It is legal in 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But the use of cannabis oil is legal in 13 states and could provide a new option for some of the nearly 150,000 Texans estimated to have intractable epilepsy, supporters say.

The oil isn’t yet available in Texas.

Last year’s legislation, which set up a series of steps that must first be taken, allows a limited number of growers of the plant to be licensed by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Right now, DPS officials are soliciting vendors to develop and put in place “a technology solution for the administration” of the program. Vendor contracts could be awarded by June.

By July, work to develop a special registry of doctors who treat epilepsy and a list of patients already diagnosed with intractable epilepsy should begin.

And no later than June 2017, DPS should issue licenses to at least three companies that will “cultivate, process and dispense low-THC cannabis to prescribed patients.”

State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, said she’s pleased with the progress state officials are making in implementing the law.

“I have been contacted by a number of folks with interest in it,” said Klick, a nurse who helped write the bill. “It’s still in the very, very early stages.

“It takes time to set up and develop products,” she said. “I’m very encouraged with the work the DPS is doing to try to be ready for the deadline.”

‘See your child suffer’

All this is good news to Davis and other parents who asked lawmakers to help their children.

“Words can’t describe what it’s like to see your child suffer every day,” Davis said during a committee hearing in Austin in last year. “Then, to add insult to injury, [we know] there’s something like CBD oil that could help control her seizures, but we can’t try it because we live in Texas.”

Colorado mother Paige Figi traveled to Texas last year to tell lawmakers about her daughter, Charlotte.

Figi talked about how her daughter had dozens of seizures a day and no medicine helped. Her condition deteriorated so much that she couldn’t swallow.

Finally, the Figi family tried cannabis oil, putting it in Charlotte’s feeding tube.

Her seizures dropped from about 1,200 a month to one or two. The girl, then 8, began physically developing again, doing things that her parents weren’t sure were possible.

She’s out of her wheelchair and can play with toys, laugh and dance, a reversal from the listless girl who didn’t walk or talk and was racked with seizures. The high-CBD oil has since been named for her — Charlotte’s Web.

Other cannabis efforts

Cannabis oil and other topics came up last month at the Southwest Cannabis Conference and Expo at the Fort Worth Convention Center, where presenters — including Montel Williams and former NFL stars — talked about the use of marijuana to relieve aches and illnesses.

Many there said that even though Texas now allows the use of cannabis oil, the state still falls behind other states.

Alexis Bortell, a young girl who moved with her family last year from Rowlett to Colorado to get cannabis oil to control her epilepsy, was among those at the convention.

I’m happy to say the seizures went away and ... my life is so much better now.

Alexis Bortell, a young girl who moved with her family last year from Rowlett to Colorado in order to get cannabis oil to control her epilepsy

“I use medical marijuana every day,” she told the crowd, according to media reports. “I’m happy to say the seizures went away and … my life is so much better now.”

‘Cautiously optimistic’

GW Pharmaceuticals recently announced positive results from a trial study using the cannabis-based drug Epidiolex to help children with rare forms of severe epilepsy.

Dr. M. Scott Perry, a pediatric epileptologist at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, is leading a team studying the same drug in various trials.

Last year he told state lawmakers that early research shows that the oil can prevent seizures and that this drug “holds great promise.”

He said it’s frustrating that he “can’t prescribe CBD to patients in my state, in Texas.”

“Do I feel comfortable now that it is safe enough? I absolutely do,” he said.

Davis said he believes that cannabis oil offers his daughter — who has a 20 percent chance of not making it to her 18th birthday — some hope.

Her seizures have not eased in the year since he asked lawmakers to legalize cabbanis oil.

In fact, Karley was hospitalized in December for pneumonia and recently received a “g-button,” similar to a feeding tube, to make sure she receives all her needed medication and nutrition.

Her family is looking forward to a party to celebrate Karley’s fourth birthday next month.

But a greater celebration looms will be in order when the family can give her cannabis oil to try to make her seizures subside.

“Some patients have seen seizure freedom; some have seen big strides in development,” Jeff Davis said. “We are optimistic once she is able to try it that it will have significant results.

“We know it’s not a silver bullet, but we are cautiously optimistic.”

Anna M. Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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