How Medical Cannabis Provider Compassionate Cultivation Is Adapting to COVID-19

Ineligible for federal aid, Compassionate Cultivation adjusts to a new paradigm: more deliveries and less contact

Compassionate Cultivation driver Trevin Richardson demonstrates the company's new safety protocols. (Courtesy of Compassionate Cultivation)

Amid statewide stay-at-home orders, Texas' medical cannabis providers were given a green light and a bumpy road. They'd been deemed an essential business, while being disqualified from receiving any kind of federal aid. What's more, they'd have to quickly adapt to a new paradigm: more deliveries and less contact.

"A lot of our patients are immunocompromised," explains Morris Denton, CEO of Compassionate Cultivation in Manchaca. "They got quarantined at home by their doctors, which was going to put stress on our delivery capabilities."

The largest of the three approved providers in the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP), Com­passionate Cultivation serves between 1,500 and 2,000 patients with cannabis-derived medicine that's grown and processed in-house. The most prevalent of their pharmaceutical-quality cannabis medicines are oral tinctures; a 20-to-1 high-CBD, low-THC formula and balanced THC to CBD solution. Upon TCUP's formation in 2015, only patients with intractable epilepsy could access cannabis products. Last June, qualifying conditions were expanded to seven new categories, including autism, terminal cancers, and multiple sclerosis.

Since it began making rounds in early 2018, Compassionate Cultivation has taken on the demanding task of delivering statewide – West Texas, the Panhandle, the Rio Grande Valley, et al. Still, roughly half of their prescriptions had previously been picked up from their southwest Travis County facility. When the virus spiked, resulting in many patients and caregivers being unable to leave their homes, delivery demand jumped to 80% – an impossible workload for their fleet of three customized Priuses.

Denton reached out to the Department of Public Safety's Regulatory Services Division, which oversees TCUP and which he says has been constantly collaborative with his business, explaining the challenges they were facing. DPS responded by allowing a special dispensation of some very specific delivery regulations. For example: Delivery vehicles are required to be equipped with a medicine safe bolted to the chassis. Instead of buying new cars and spending the time and money attaching safes to the frames, they're being allowed to use personal vehicles with safes that are secured in different ways.

Denton explains that regulators and the Compassionate Cultivation team also worked together to create and institute a contactless delivery system; previously, patients and drivers may have made contact up to seven times during a delivery.

"We confirm their identity ahead of time. When the driver arrives, they put on mask and gloves, get medicine from a bag, go to the door, call or text to say, 'It's here,' leave the medicine on the porch, and receive electronic confirmation," he explains.

While many companies have had to adapt protocols to meet public health needs, the stakes here are certainly higher than with, say, pizza chains going to touchless delivery. It's about finding a solution to keep the flow of medicine uninterrupted for folks suffering from cancer and seizures, and assuaging the worries of parents caring for kids with autism whose personalities are brightened by a medicine they can't get anywhere else. And, Denton stresses, it's demonstrating that Texas' medical cannabis businesses are both essential and resolute.

"DPS and the state deeming us an essential business is a statement, because they know the medicine we produce is life-changing for the vast majority of our patients, so it's critical we get it into their hands with continuity and consistency," he says. "The second statement is showing that we're gonna continue to run our business with absolute integrity during this time – even though we're not eligible to apply for [the Paycheck Protection Program] or [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] or any federal subsidies to help offset the economic impact – and they're going to see us weather the storm of our own volition."

Editor's note: This story has been amended since publication in order to reflect the nuance between hemp and low-THC cannabis.

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