Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation (TOCC), a vertically integrated medical cannabis company headquartered in Manchaca, Texas, just southwest of Austin, struggled to make deliveries to patients last week during the state’s winter storm that brought historically low temperatures, icy roads, and widespread power and water outages.
While TOCC’s facility kept its power, many of its employees did not. And while the facility continued to run, hazardous road conditions made it impossible to drive throughout the state to deliver cannabis medicine.
Contributing Editor Cassie Neiden Tomaselli caught up with TOCC CEO Morris Denton, who shares some of the grim details of last week and how he believes the Compassionate Use Program could improve to make medicine more accessible should another weather event impact the state of Texas.
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted on Feb. 19. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Cassie Neiden Tomaselli: How is the team doing overall?
Morris Denton: Our team is a resilient bunch, right, and very purpose-driven and passionate about doing our best to get our medicine safely and quickly into the hands of our patients whom we serve throughout the state of Texas. We had a number of employees who suffered pretty significant consequences during the winter storm: some ranging from complete displacement because flooding based on broken pipes, to a lot of folks being out of electricity and out of water for extended periods of time.
At the facility we fared a lot better. We didn’t have any significant power loss to the facility at any point in time. We of course have generators in place if we need them, but it didn’t get to that point. We were able to run the facility somewhat remotely, even when we couldn’t have anyone come into the facility because the roads were impassable for a period of 48 to 72 hours. We were unable to have anybody go to the facility because all the roads were completely shut down. And we’ve designed the facility in such a way where lights come on and off automatically— all of our systems can be run somewhat remotely. We did a good job in designing the facility to be able to sustain itself for a reasonable period of time, not for weeks or months certainly, but the facility continued to run.
The biggest challenge that we faced was our ability to get the medicine from our facility to throughout Texas, and one of the challenges that we face as a result of the burdensome regulations imposed by the state on the Compassionate Use Program [is that] we’re unable to store inventory anywhere except at our one facility [in Manchaca]. We had a number of patients throughout the state of Texas where we couldn’t get the medicine to them because the roads were impassable or portions of the drive were just going to be too dangerous for us to make.
We couldn’t put our people at risk. When I talked to my management team, we said, ‘Look we’ve got to prioritize the health of our people, we can’t put our people in jeopardy, we can’t put them at risk, because they need to come to work and need to get medicine out.’ Once we felt like it was safe to start and to resume deliveries, then we began that as quickly as possible.
As typical of our team, we were leaning on a lot of different people in order to make these deliveries. We did our absolute best but we still had patients in parts of Texas who had to start to ration some of their medicine because they were worried about when we were going to be able to get back out to see them. And that’s sort of a needless thing for them to worry about if we had the ability to, again, store inventory closer to where those patients live. They may have been able to come to us or we could have quickly gotten it out to them. It’s just part of the restrictions of the program that unfortunately this weather event is shining a light on and saying, ‘boy that’s a problem.’
So this weather event has definitely highlighted some of the areas that are really important for improvement in the program going forward, which includes our ability to store inventory in other locations throughout the state and allow us to get closer to our patients. That means that we can deliver or provide access to our medicine on a far more efficient and safe basis.
Neiden Tomaselli: How and where would you store that inventory in other parts of the states if you were afforded the opportunity?
Denton: [The state regulators] would leave it as a business decision for [us] to determine where we thought it made the most amount of sense to house inventory, based upon the number of patients whom we had in that specific market area, or the number of doctors whom we might have. Really, the fact that we’re unable to store inventory anywhere except for the one location in a state that is as large as Texas is beyond onerous.
Neiden Tomaselli: How is your team doing now?
Denton: The majority of our team is doing better but there are a couple folks who had pretty significant damage of broken pipes that then flooded their house, and so those folks are going to be displaced for more than just a couple days. That’s not just a little inconvenience, that’s a massive impact on their lives. The majority of our team unfortunately had to suffer just like all the other Texans had to suffer, right along side by side with them. But as their electricity comes back on and their access to water starts to improve, hopefully life will return somewhat to normal.
Neiden Tomaselli: Speaking of water shortages and the boil advisory, how has that impacted your cultivation cycles?
Denton: We don’t use City of Austin water or any water from any municipality. We’re on a well, so we’re self-contained. And as an SOP, we test [the quality of the water] very frequently and, if we need to treat it, we treat it. So the net effect has been zero on us from a cultivation perspective.
Our facility has—knock on wood—weathered the storm pretty well, and we can consider ourselves fortunate in that regard. A lot of it was because of the terrific, thoughtful planning that the team put in place when we designed the facility and built it out, knowing that there could be a lot of weather events [such as] severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, floods, and now ice storms and snow. Texas is a tempestuous state when it comes to its weather, so we had to design a facility thinking through what the different impact could be and, again, fortunately our facility was able to sort of come through this with a real shining star.
[Now that] we’re back up and running and fully operational, we’re going to double our efforts to make sure the folks who are waiting on our medicine get it as quickly as possible.