THE FIRST CYCLE of weed legislation has allowed Texas a few theoretical baby steps into the cannabiz, but as we close in on one year after passage of Senate Bill 339, what actually is happening in Texas—to activists and entrepreneurs on the ground?
The Texas Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 339) went into effect June 1, 2015. The law allows patients with intractable epilepsy prescription access to “low-THC cannabis”: marijuana that contains 10 percent or more CBD and not more than 0.5 percent THC. Under the law, licensed businesses are authorized to cultivate, process, and provide compliant cannabis to qualifying individuals. The Texas Department of Safety, which oversees the program, will begin issuing licenses by September 1, 2017.
Though Texas law may appear to be setting a very limited stage for its cannabis industry, savvy entrepreneurs and advocates are already moving into the Lone Star State’s developing canna-space.
According to Patrick Moran—chief executive officer and managing partner for AcquiFlow LLC, Texas’s first open, transparent, and legal cannabis company—people are entering the state’s industry in one of two ways: via primary market services and via ancillary support services. While most primary services—those that deal directly with the plant—are in a preparation/holding stage until business licenses actually go into effect, the ancillary market is burgeoning with creative entrepreneurs.
Moran’s own venture—which he described as three siblings all primed to serve a fourth, the proverbial baby of the family—is a quintessential example of ancillary service development. AcquiFlow is made up of Industrial Hemp, lighting entity Heliospectra, and Living Farms, a proof-of-concept endeavor that produces pesticide-free hydroponic basil and lettuce using the same cultivation methods employed by legal cannabis grows. These three entities provide a support infrastructure for Texas Cannabis, which Moran foresees becoming a nationally distributed, Texas-based cannabis brand.
“The [Compassionate Care Act] is not perfect. No one claims it is,” Moran explained, “but it is allowing us to build out a framework that will eventually be able to produce safe, regulated, high-potency cannabis in the most business-friendly state in the U.S.”
That type of structured business framework—populated with a variety of workers, service providers, and interests—is exactly what Lori Strubbe is banking on. Strubbe, who migrated to Texas cannabis from the mainstream corporate human resources arena, is the founder and president of Looking Glass Recruiting and HR Solutions. In her view, recruitment is a long game. “Currently, there’s no money in staffing because everyone already wants to work in [the cannabis industry],” she said, laughing. “No one wants to pay for recruiting because no one really needs to—yet.”
According to Strubbe, as the industry grows and becomes increasingly mainstream, businesses will need to fill more than just canna-specific jobs. “Every other job you can imagine in any other industry will also become available in cannabis,” Strubbe explained, and this is where the opportunity is.
From professionals in non-canna-specific occupations (e.g. marketing, sales, and accounting) exploring the weed biz to organizations needing enhanced professionalization, human resources consulting is both necessary and underserved. “Employers are starting to wake up,” Strubbe said. “Bridging the space between non-cannabis businesses operating where cannabis is legal, employers are asking, ‘What do I do about my current drug-free workplace policy, random drug-screens, background checks, etc?’ That’s where I come in.”
Big-picture insights from people like Moran and Strubbe are shaping the industry for young entrepreneurs in Texas – women like Ginger Lee, a Dallas local in her mid-20s and proprietor of Earth Right Alternatives.
Earth Right Alternatives is a dispensary that will operate under the Compassionate Care Act, serving patients with intractable epilepsy as well as the general public. Lee’s vision for Earth Right Alternatives includes “mini-yogi” sessions for children, both as an outlet for physical activity and a modality for practicing mindfulness and bonding with caregivers, ethically sourced retail products, and a private area reserved for prescription pick-up.
“We see ourselves as encouraging a more holistic lifestyle by providing a range of natural alternatives to the traditional western lifestyle that many people are currently beginning to shy away from,” Lee explained.
Lee, who is a full-time college student and heavily involved in community arts and music, highlighted the importance of mentoring such as the mentoring she receives via the Texas Cannabis Industry Association’s entrepreneur incubator program. One basic business principle in the forefront of Lee’s mind is diversity—specifically, building a balance between primary and ancillary services into her own business plan.
“If the laws don’t change for the next couple of years, we aren’t going to be burying ourselves alive trying to remain topside until they do,” Lee explained. “We provide an extremely popular service, as well as natural products that are almost as popular as ‘greenwashing’ your company is these days.”
Lee also underscored the importance of developing community connections. “Know that demand is not going to go down anytime soon, and supply will never be able to keep up, so don’t worry about competition,” she advised. “Worry about contributing something new and unprecedented to an evolving industry, and you can’t go wrong.
“And be kind,” she added, “because although we Texans are known for our southern hospitality, we value respect and character a whole lot more.”
For all its positive points, strong Texas character is one place where the state may actually need the most work. According to Drayah Sallis, executive director of Our Cannabis Culture and founding chairwoman of the Dallas chapter of Women Grow–Texas, most of the state continues to struggle with conversations about weed.
“Austin is the Denver of Texas, and Houston and San Antonio are just slightly more conservative,” Sallis explained. “But in North Texas [Dallas], it remains a bit of a secret society to talk about cannabis. Even medicinally, people are still very standoffish about the conversation. And in West Texas? There has not been much response to our outreach.”
For Sallis, moving toward marijuana reform in Texas in whatever capacity, great or small, requires a cultural shift, one she hopes to accomplish by starting conversations in spaces where none generally happen.
“From having a conversation with major non-profits in conservative [areas] to engaging with faith-based organizations about the impact [marijuana criminalization has] on the whole family, we are still in the grassroots stage,” she explained.
But like Moran, Strubbe, and Lee, Sallis sees a bright, expansive future for Texas cannabis—a future reliant upon a purposive legal and business structure, as well as a community spirit that’s unique to the Lone Star State.
According to Sallis, “What is encouraging is the consistency in the message: that cannabis can change community through medicine, reform, and lean business models.”
Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, is the author of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment. Her work also has appeared in Men’s Health, Playboy, Mic, VICE, and numerous academic journals. Find her on Twitter at @drchauntelle.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS, IRL
Karen Reeves, cannabis activist and founder of CenTex Community Outreach
Karen Reeves is a disabled single mother and grandmother in her mid-50s. She started CenTex in 2014. When not fighting cannabis criminalization during the Texas legislative session, CenTex helps bring awareness about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and hemp to Central Texas and empowers grassroots community activism. One of CenTex’s key issues is jury nullification. “If a law is unjust, jurors can vote ‘not guilty’ and nullify unjust marijuana cases,” Reeves explained. “If we make it difficult for courts to convict unjust marijuana cases, then maybe officers will stop arresting innocent people.”
Roger B. Martin, U.S. army veteran; founder and executive director of Grow for Vets
“On one hand, the [Veterans Administration] is offering drugs for free. On the other hand, [veterans] have to pay for a medical card and pay for cannabis, whether they’re getting it legally or illegally,” Martin explained. “When it comes down to a choice, people often take the free drugs.” Given this pattern, Martin started Grow for Vets in 2013 with one simple goal: to help veterans get off dangerous pharmaceuticals by providing free legal cannabis as an alternative. “My hope for Texas in the immediate future is support chapters of Grow for Vets, all in an attempt to move along,” he said. Support groups could provide camaraderie, family resources, fundraising, and organizing/activism support, all working toward securing medicinal access for veterans and providing free cannabis in legal states. “I’m not a fan of lobbying groups,” Martin added. “They’re a lot of show, but not much go.”
Scott Bier, MD, chief executive officer of Green Well Ventures
Once the company is licensed in Texas, Green Well Ventures is slated to be a vertically integrated operation that will cultivate, produce, and dispense cannabis-based medicine and other wellness products. According to Scott Bier, “The great thing about the way the laws were written in Texas is that there are no statutory limitations on the number of licenses that will be issued.” This is in stark contrast to the artificial limitation shaping industries in many other states. “In that way, Texas has been quite forward-thinking, letting market forces determine who sinks and who swims,” Bier said. Though significant progress has been made, the battle is not yet won, nor is a win guaranteed. “Remember that it was advocacy that got us this far,” Bier said. “It is imperative for those in the industry to occasionally put on your activist hats to help move the dial in our state.”