In just two months, Texans suffering from intractable epilepsy will be able to purchase a type of medicinal cannabis approved by the state. The dispensary itself is located outside a rural Texas town better known for its dance halls, polka music and kolaches.
Austin mom Katie Graham sips coffee at a café on the city’s Northwest side. She’s just sent her son Elliott off on a school field trip and now nervously monitors her cell phone for texts alerting her that her son has suffered another seizure.
“There’s always a really high level of anxiety and stress. Every single moment, every single phone call, you never know if that’s that one call from school that he’s had another seizure, and so even at night we don’t sleep very well because there’s always that anxiety," Graham said.
Graham’s son is one of 150,000 patients allowed to register with the state and have a doctor's recommendation to use a type of cannabis oil with a high concentration of cannabidiol — or CBD — and extremely low-levels of THC, the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant.
“The fact that it’s right here and doctors will actually be prescribing it just gives us a huge piece of mind," Graham said, "so we are really excited about the offerings in Texas."
Graham said they enrolled Elliott in a CBD drug trial while waiting for the new law to come online and immediately saw improvements in how often his seizures were occurring.
Texas’ medical cannabis law — known as the “Compassionate Use Program" — says patients with epilepsy and a doctor’s recommendation can register with the state, which allows them to visit one of three licensed dispensaries to purchase cannabis oil. The oil must only contain 0.5 percent THC or less in order for it to be legal in the state.
The oil can either be inhaled through a vaporizer or taken sublingually.
Jose Hidalgo is the owner of Knox Medical, the first dispensary to be licensed by the state. His company has licensed medical cannabis operations in Florida and Puerto Rico. For its Texas operation, Knox Medical chose Schulenburg with a population of just under 3,000 residents.
“We require a large amount of land for us to even consider that. And then the next consideration after that was how can we get closest to the largest amount of the population," he said. "So for us, Schulenburg was a good location because you are right near the triangle of Houston, San Antonio and Austin."
Knox Medical’s marijuana grow operation and dispensary is virtually unnoticeable. It’s located just off of a two-lane country road. And while guarded by a chain-link fence and razor wire, it still resembles a portable building you might see at a construction site with a make-shift greenhouse, except with a lot more surveillance cameras.
While many Schulenburg business owners were reluctant to share their views about the medical cannabis oil being produced and sold in their own backyard, others — like Roy Smrkovsky, owner of the City Market, a barbecue restaurant and meat market in the heart of town — welcome the idea.
“I don’t believe in essence of smoking 'weed' and driving and doing stuff like that. It is for medicinal purposes. Why suffer? Why go through life and suffer?" Smrkovski asked.
Smrkovksi, whose wife is dealing with chronic pain, said he is in favor of the state passing a medical cannabis law that allows a doctor to recommend its use for any condition.
Stacy Hegar, who manages the Marketplace Café and Garden just a few blocks away, said the dispensary is likely to also boost the town’s economy.
“We’ve had some of the employees come in and eat, so the employees are helping the economy also," Hegar said.
Knox Medical officials said registered Texas patients using the company’s website will place an order and then have it couriered to their location, which will begin by the end of December.