TX: Small Town North Of Dallas Could Become Hub Of Medical Cannabis Industry


Gunter – A cotton gin that sat empty for decades in this small North Texas town could be filled next year with the first cannabis plants legally grown in the state.

The man investing in the old buildings plans to open a greenhouse and processing facility to make cannabis oil as a medical treatment for people with severe epilepsy. A Texas statute enacted in 2015 paves the way for the cultivation of non-psychoactive cannabis for that purpose. It was the only marijuana-related bill approved in the last legislative session.

Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis, and until 2015, it was illegal to grow either in Texas, though hemp products from elsewhere could be imported into the state and sold here. In oversimplified terms, plants with higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the component that gets people high, are considered marijuana.

The cannabis product approved under the Texas Compassionate Use Act will be developed from a plant engineered to have extremely low levels of THC. Instead, it will be rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive chemical that could help reduce seizures in some people. Patients must obtain a doctor’s prescription for cannabis oil.

The businessman who could put the first legal cannabis plants in the ground in Gunter is Patrick Moran, an Amarillo native and the president and co-founder of the Texas Cannabis Industry Association.

Moran, 45, zigzagged across North Texas one weekend in search of a cotton gin to house his CBD production facility.

He said he wanted to tie Texas’ agricultural past to what he sees as its future – cannabis.

“As we move forward in history, it’s going to become more and more important to our economy,” he said.

He found what he was looking for in Gunter – pronounced “Gunner” by locals – a town of 1,500 that’s roughly 60 miles north of Dallas, in Grayson County.

His next step was to get in touch with the mayor, Tim Slattery. A self-proclaimed “country boy” who moved to Gunter in 2008, Slattery trains dogs for special operations. He’s been deployed to Afghanistan and Southeast Asia as a private military contractor.

Slattery’s a burly man with a booming voice and big, tattoo-covered arms. He often tucks a pinch of dip into his bottom lip.

He didn’t think much of it when, at the end of January, he got an email from a guy named Moran who wanted to set up a business meeting – no specifics.

When they met, Moran launched into his spiel about cannabis and the cotton gin.

“He’s very full of energy and passion and you’re sitting here and he kind of draws you in,” Slattery said.

The mayor wasn’t familiar with CBD oil. But he knew what cannabis was, and he certainly wouldn’t be OK with a head shop in Gunter.

So he educated himself.

“Because I knew … once word got out that there would be a miscommunication because of lack of knowledge – the difference between CBD oil and recreational marijuana,” he said.

“You could harvest the whole lot and smoke it till the cows come home and it’ll do nothing for you.”

Moran said he was never into drugs – and barely drinks.

But in 2008, he needed help.

He’d been diagnosed with family-related post-traumatic stress disorder after growing up with an alcoholic stepfather who had been a tail gunner in Vietnam and Korea.

“He brought both of those wars back home and back into our house,” Moran said.

His mom, a nurse who’d grown up in an abusive household, laid down the law to her husband – he wasn’t to touch her baby boy.

That didn’t stop the violent outbursts, though. The stepfather killed Moran’s beloved pets, threw TVs through walls and threatened to kill Moran and his mom.

As an adult living in California, Moran attended grief therapy and was prescribed medical marijuana to help with his PTSD.

“It saved my life,” he said. “That’s what first got me changing my perspective.”

So Moran, a businessman with a legal background and investments in other areas, including real estate and previously a swim club, pivoted his focus to the emerging cannabis industry.

He established a company, AcquiFlow, in 2014, once he moved back to Texas, to begin raising capital in anticipation of bills like the Compassionate Use Act. Moran said about 150,000 Texans with severe epilepsy could get relief from CBD oil.

“We’ve been building since our inception for exactly this,” he said.

Slattery, the mayor, said he realized after his initial talk with Moran that the 4-year-old daughter of his close friends Jeff and Shawna Davis was one of the people who might benefit from CBD oil. Karley Davis has Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy that causes frequent seizures. For most of her life, she’s taken a revolving concoction of drugs to control the disease, but the seizures won’t stop.

Her family hopes CBD oil will help. Jeff Davis was one of those who lobbied for passage of the Compassionate Use Act.

“We owe this man a deep, deep sense of gratitude,” Moran said. “The fight that he has fought for his daughter is incredible.”

On a recent Wednesday, Shawna Davis joined Karley on the floor of their home in Haslet, about 20 miles north of Fort Worth.

She cradled her daughter in her arms as she put purple orthotic braces decorated with butterflies on the wiggling toddler’s legs. She pulled little New Balance shoes onto Karley’s feet, to keep her ankles from turning in.

Jeff Davis scooped Karley up and onto his lap. Her arms and legs briefly flailed.

“She jerks like that all day,” he said. “The short ones are called myoclonic seizure, like that. … She convulses. So if she’s walking, she’ll fall down.”

She’s had seizures throughout her young life. They started with grand mals, the violent convulsions most people think of when they hear the word “seizure.”

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, most grand mal seizures end in a minute or two. But Karley’s would routinely last much longer – one went on for an hour and 45 minutes.

She wasn’t even a year old.

Karley, who has an autism spectrum disorder and is nonverbal, squirmed in her dad’s arms and let out a squeal as she poked at an iPad.

They’re working on communication and forming specific sounds in her therapy sessions. It’s a struggle, Shawna Davis said, because Karley gets frustrated and when she does, she’s more prone to seizures.

“Just to give you an idea, she had 28 seizures the other day in therapy,” Shawna Davis said. “So they have to stop and let her kind of cool down.”

The Davises hope CBD oil will minimize Karley’s seizures and let them wean her off her medications.

They laughed as they recalled trying to get the Compassionate Use Act passed in Texas, the “reddest state.” Shawna cared for Karley – a round-the-clock job – and their other daughter, 7-year-old Kendall, while Jeff hit the ground running.

He helped form the Compassionate Access for Epilepsy Texas Coalition, an initiative of Texas affiliates of the Epilepsy Foundation, to push for passage of the cannabis legislation.

It was tough, they said, to get their message across.

“Our whole intent was to help our kiddos, not get high,” Shawna Davis said. “People think we’re marijuana advocates. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

Under the Compassionate Use Act, access to CBD oil will be limited to people with intractable epilepsy — specifically, those who have been treated with at least two drugs that have proved ineffective in reducing their seizures.

The Texas Department of Public Safety will oversee implementation and regulation of the cannabis oil program. A patient registry is expected to be compiled in the next few months.

It can’t happen soon enough for Karley Davis’ parents.

“There are no other medications available to give her,” Jeff Davis said. “So it’s either, ‘Hey this is as good as it gets,’ or, ‘Hey this appears to be a better option.’ That should be our choice.”

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Small Town North Of Dallas Could Become Hub Of Medical Cannabis Industry
Author: Liz Farmer
Contact: 214-977-8222
Photo Credit: Jae S. Lee
Website: The Dallas Morning News