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The cost of medicine: Nevada County Cannabis Alliance offers relief through local supply chain

Compassion program sources medicine locally

Vials filled with cannabis extract are placed in a tray, ready to be packaged and sold.
Photo: Elias Funez
Casey Lennon of Emerald Bay Extracts, based out of Nevada City, stands in a room containing finished and packaged product.
Photo: Elias Funez
Emerald Bay Extracts’ workers show a bin of cannabis after it has been processed and the cannabinoids extracted last month at their Nevada City laboratory.
Photo: Elias Funez
Some of Emerald Bay Extracts’ full spectrum cannabis extracts are made specifically for certain dispensaries.
Photo: Elias Funez
Casey Lennon of Emerald Bay Extracts talks shop at their Nevada City lab last month.
Photo: Elias Funez
Lab workers at Emerald Bay Extracts work on filling vials with full spectrum cannabis oil extracted through the lab’s processes.
Photo: Elias Funez
Emerald Bay Extracts workers show off the extraction process required to pull the cannabinoids from the plant.
Photo: Elias Funez
Katrina Cable, consumer products manager at Emerald Bay Extracts, works on filling vials with cannabis extract last month at the company’s Nevada City laboratory.
Photo: Elias Funez
Casey Lennon of Emerald Bay Extracts.
Photo: Elias Funez

The Nevada County Cannabis Alliance has launched a Compassion Care program to provide accessible, plant-based medicine — in the form of full spectrum CBD cannabis products — to critically ill patients in the area.

“This program is the first in the country where we are — within our association, within our local supply chain — bringing medicine that has been cultivated here in Nevada County, manufactured in Nevada County, distributed and tested here,” said Diana Gamzon, the executive director of the alliance. “Then, it has to go through the local retailer to provide medicine to those in the community. That is historic in and of itself.”

Gamzon said providing accessible, plant-based medicine has been a priority of cannabis cultivators and the Nevada County Board of Supervisors since the 2016 defeat of Measure W — which, if passed, would have severely restricted grows. The passage of Senate Bill 34 — the Compassion Bill — in 2019 provided the policy necessary to give legally.



Wade Laughter is a medical cannabis educator who started House of Harlequin. Laughter said since legalization, cannabis product is taxed heavily throughout its cultivation, production and distribution process.

“It allows product to move through the supply chain tax free,“ Laughter said of Senate Bill 34.



Laughter said, normally, growers pay a cultivation tax for all products — flower or trim — directly to the state. Additionally, consumers pay an excise tax at retailers.

“If I wanted to donate a pound of flower before SB 34, I would have to forgo the cost of the flower, but I would have had to pay $130 per pound,” Laughter said. “The consumer has no idea the amount of tax at the retail outlet, they just pay for it.”

Laughter said Prop 215 allowed cannabis distributors to operate as collectives, which helped industry entities provide medicine to members on a sliding scale.

“They were private membership-based organizations that were allowed to cultivate and distribute cannabis among themselves,” Laughter said.

Laughter said when Prop 64 passed and legalized marijuana’s recreational usage in 2016, the state legislation actually outlawed the previous collective model.

“Now there were rules and regulations in place, it shut the door on all of the old operators,” Laughter said, adding that members of Nevada County’s own Caladrius Network suffered the consequences of legalization.

POLITICS OF PLANTS

The Caladrius Network was started by Forrest Hurd, an unlikely cannabis advocate and father. Hurd’s son, Silas, is a 13 year old with intractable epilepsy caused by the Lennox-Gestault syndrome.

“The reality was that I’m not a cannabis person at all,” Hurd said, “but the only people who helped me and ended up saving my son’s life were being demonized (pre-legalization).”

When Silas was 6 years old, doctors predicted he would not live longer than a decade, Hurd said.

“Now, he’s taking the same medicine he was taking when we almost lost the fight against Measure W,” Hurd said, adding, “and he’s not only alive, but he’s thriving.”

Hurd said the Caladrius Network relied on the generosity of CBD-oriented cultivators like Laughter, but the product’s processing and distribution was largely a one-man show.

“I was working for free, 100% volunteer basis, while taking care of a high level need kid 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Hurd said. In addition to critical patient outreach, Hurd helped draft the compassion legislation initially vetoed by former Gov. Jerry Brown and passed by current Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Hurd said he helped distribute $1.2 million in medicine to approximately 50 families between the passage of Prop 64 and SB 34.

“The network filled a very important gap during that transition process when there was no legal avenue,” Hurd said.

SUSTAINABLE GIVING

Hurd said he is grateful to see community stakeholders with capacity from the for-profit realm participate in a more sustainable model of giving.

“It shows how genuine and good-natured they are,” Hurd said.

Hurd said the local cannabis industry’s integrity is evident in its continued care for the critically ill, those who helped flip the public’s opinion on cannabis in the Nevada County community.

Gamzon said the cannabis entrepreneurs she advocates for are driven by something far deeper than profit.

“This sort of generosity is what separates the cannabis industry from others,” Gamzon said.

Laughter said Hurd’s network lives on through the Compassion Care program.

“Now, Forrest is able to point the patients that were in his collective to Elevation (2477’), — ’Here’s a similar product we used to give you, now you can get it here,’” Laughter explained.

Hurd did just that on Sunday, he said, when he was approached by a family with a son with uncontrollable seizures.

“They can’t afford the cost of the medicine, it’s still very cost-prohibitive,” Hurd said. “We’ve put them on a list for Caladrius and are getting them the resources they need.”

LOCALIZED RESPONSE

Sebastian Gotla is on the board of the Cannabis Alliance and a licensed farmer of Foothill River Farms.

Gotla said it was ironic and tragic that the founders of the medical cannabis community were shut out after the legalization of recreational use.

“I wanted to try to give back to them to acknowledge the work and dedication they’ve been doing for so long,” Gotla said. “The new rec market is not serving those particular people with particularly formulated medicine. That was the first goal of the compassion program.”

As the Compassion program’s lead on behalf of the alliance, Gotla has focused on the logistics of moving product through the local supply chain — from cultivator to manufacturer, to product testing and labeling and finally, transportation to the retailers.

“The alliance is creating the logistics and supply chain management of local licensees to create a product that members of the Caladrius Network can then obtain at Elevation (2477’) for free,” Gotla said.

Gotla and Gamzon note that Nevada County’s climate is ideal for growing CBD-dominant strains of cannabis.

“Many of those specific strains have been stewarded by some of the local cannabis advocates for a decade-plus here in Nevada County,” Gotla said.

RESEARCH REQUIRED

Casey Lennon, a former Stanford nurse who now owns and operates Emerald Bay Extracts, said her company partners with a farm or group of farmers who are willing to donate the materials.

Lennon said her company not only receives donations but sets aside some of its own profit to package product for recipients of the Compassion Care program.

Lennon said Emerald Bay Extracts was working with a network of established caretakers of children with epilepsy before becoming a crucial component of the alliance’s most recent outreach project.

“For Nevada County, we did a tincture,” Lennon explained. “It’s concentrated oil with no MCT oil or other product in it.”

Lennon said the typical edible has 2 to 5 milligrams of concentrate, but the tincture she distributes is “super concentrated” and medical grade — 850 milligrams.

Lennon said she was working with cancer patients near the Silicon Valley and noticed a lot of them were self-prescribing and purchasing cannabis off the black market to manage their pain.

“There is a huge concentration of people who need the product but don’t need the sugars or the vape,” Lennon said. “That was always the goal with this company.”

Lennon said a lot of scientific nuances of cannabis medicinal treatment remain unknown, but Emerald Bay Extracts researches terpine profiles and collects customer reviews to better understand their product.

“We have cannabanoid receptors in our body and we know that and we know cannabis accepts that,” Lennon said. “Now we need to allow the research to happen and the patient experience to be legitimized.”

Lennon said her team looks at the terpines, or flavor components found in medicinal plant products, and patient experiences to offer informed recommendations.

“A real person we’ve talked to has a child with autism,” Lennon said. “We determine the product’s terpine profile, and recommend specific strains that may help with behavioral issues.”

Lennon said her concern for community health even extends to the agricultural dimension.

“We have a dozen or so farms we continually work with to ensure quality insurance, regenerative growing practices and no pesticides,” Lennon said. “By keeping the group of farmers smaller, we can keep sourcing specific strains.”

Forrest Hurd said he expects a marked uptick in interest now that this affordable channel has opened.

“The families in need aren’t necessarily cannabis people,” Hurd said. “They’re just scared and worried about their kids — which shows all the more need for nonprofit support.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.

 


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