Sunday, March 20, 2016

Business owner to transform vacant Gunter structure into hemp-processing plant

By Alex Maxwell

The three structures off 2nd in Gunter were previously a cotton gin facility. 

GUNTER — A new business is set to take root in Gunter that plans to transform a dilapidated cotton gin warehouse into a facility that will cultivate hemp and extract and process its oil for medical treatments.

Patrick Moran, AcquiFlow CEO, met with citizens at the Gunter City Hall on Wednesday night to answer questions and explain his new business that will harvest hemp oil for its cannabidiol properties, which helps treat those suffering from intractable epilepsy. Moran said while the 3-hour meeting had its heated moments, overall it was a positive experience.

“A very clear majority are in support and understand what’s actually happening,” Moran said. “The handful that were not in support, they were basing their concerns on either misunderstandings or completely inaccurate facts.”

Moran is creating a subsidiary business of AcquiFlow called Texas Cannabis, which is focused on creating low-THC hemp under strict Texas regulations for medical use. The state passed the Texas Compassionate Use Act into law last year, which will eventually allow low-THC cannabis solely for treating intractable epilepsy. Under the law, diagnosed Texas patients suffering from the disorder can purchase the low-THC cannabis from licensed dispensing organizations. The law forbids the low-THC cannabis from being smoked and patients can only purchase it from the licensed organizations.

The Department of Public Safety is administering the Compassionate Use Program and will license at least three dispensing organizations by Sept. 1, 2017. The license would allow the organization to do what Moran wants to do, cultivate, process and dispense low-THC cannabis to prescribed patients.

Right now, Moran’s business is just getting started and at best it will be longer than a year before operations begin. His operation will be following the DPS guidelines and his facility will need to be state approved in order to receive the license. So Moran is securing the site and making preparations.

“We’ll be cultivating hemp with high CBD content, which is the medical component for these children,” Moran said. “Then we will be extracting and processing the oils straight from the plant, and then putting it into medical delivery systems.”

Moran said hemp is not marijuana but the non-psychoactive cousin with the cannabis plant. He said the best way to describe the relationship between the two is like wine and grape juice.

“We just legalized grape juice, so wine is still illegal and what we’ll be doing up in Gunter is making grape juice,” Moran said.

Gunter Mayor Tim Slattery officiated the meeting Wednesday night. He said the meeting was not required by law but Moran wanted to do it to explain what his operation was going to do. He said Moran contacted him in January as a courtesy call to talk about the possibility of creating his operation in Gunter, but it wasn’t until last week when Moran said it was going to happen. So Slattery worked with Moran to set up the public forum at city hall.

“He doesn’t have to come before the city, he doesn’t have to go before the public,” Slattery said. “He wants to be a part of this community in a positive way. … It will have a positive effect. We’re going to have a medically established, state-controlled facility here to help epileptics.”

Some negatives comments from the meeting that stuck out to Slattery, he said, were based around misunderstandings and nonfactual stigmas. He said only about 20 percent of the roughly 125 people in attendance at the meeting actually lived in the city. The rest were from the outskirts. He said the hemp is not marijuana, the oil does not have street value, it cannot create a high and does not have any recreational use.

“The only value it has is to the epileptics who are dying because they don’t have it,” Slattery said. “More people would rather listen to rumors, a 30-second rumor about something, and form an opinion than take 30 minutes and do their homework.”

Slattery said Moran’s operation will be heavily regulated by the state. He said Texas took into consideration all the problems that existed from other states’ cannabis regulations and designed the law to operate cautiously. The way the law is designed puts the cart before the horse, he said, so organizations must build facilities and the state approves it by checking to see if they’re following regulations before they can receive the license.

The city and the county do not have control over the operation and could not stop Moran’s business even if they wanted to. It’s all at the state level, Slattery said. The Gunter property off 2nd Street that Moran is purchasing is in accordance with zoning laws. Slattery said the business is going to help the Gunter economy, to what level he doesn’t know.

“Gunter is going to be seen as the compassionate city because we opened our doors to this to help epileptics,” Slattery said. “… It’s not about the money, it’s about these kids who are suffering because they don’t have it.”

Slattery said Gunter will host another public forum on March 23. The details are still to be determine, but it will probably be at a different location other than the city hall in order to accommodate more people.

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