Willcox Bowie Medical Marijuana Dispensary Cathys Compassion Center Cathy Mead
County’s first medical marijuana dispensary open
When entering Cathy’s Compassion Center you step over a mat that reads “welcome friends.”
But before walking through the front door of the small manufactured building sitting on a large parcel of land in the rural community of Cochise, visitors must prove they meet that standard.
Gaining access to the first medical marijuana dispensary to open its doors in Cochise County requires patients to show their state issued cards to a camera. Only then can they enter the small waiting room, where a patient’s identity is verified with the Arizona Department of Health Services database before access is granted, one at a time, to the room where the medicine is dispensed.
The third dispensary to start operating in Arizona is unique in two ways. It is the first to open in a rural area and it is the first to include a cultivation site.
Yet there is also something else that sets it apart, or rather, someone else.
Cathy Mead, the dispensary’s owner, is a cancer survivor who also saw the disease destroy both her parents, who died just two years apart. The difference between her mother’s final days and her father’s is what changed Mead’s perception of marijuana forever, sowing the seeds of her current endeavor.
A “Field of Dreams”
When Mead’s cousin brought her father marijuana in his final months struggling with aggressive lung cancer, she was angry.
Then she saw the relief it provided and the quality time it enabled him to spend with the family, Mead said. He was laughing again, sleeping and eating too.
“I think it’s just invaluable,” Mead said. “It made his final two-to-three months comfortable.
“To the family, even though we had that stigma going into it, it really opened our eyes and changed our minds,” she said. “It made the quality of his life at the end just that much better.”
This was in stark contrast to her mom’s experience before she died just two years earlier.
“She was on morphine and she was pretty much a vegetable in the end and I think had she had an option we probably would have had a little more quality time with her,” Mead said.
She wants to reach out to people with cancer in particular, though they represent just 3.76 percent of the medical marijuana patients in Arizona, as of Nov. 7. Chronic pain is patients’ top complaint, which is cited by 89.8 percent, or 30,203 people who have been issued medical marijuana cards.
Mead has hired a counselor who will, among other duties, help patients with pain management, with the goal of enabling them to get off all forms of medication, she said. Per state law, a medical director will also be on call but will soon also be at the site nearly every business day, Tuesday through Saturday, to work with patients.
Sundays and Mondays will be reserved for deliveries and one-on-one consultations with the medical director or counselor, Mead said. She is able to deliver to patients and dispensaries throughout the state, which is key considering the remoteness of her location.
As of Nov. 7, the date of the most recent report, there were 392 registered patients in Cochise County health areas and just 39 in the Wilcox/Bowie area, where Mead operates.
Mead has taken the “Field of Dreams” approach. “If you build it, they will come,” she said.
As for the medicine itself, Mead acquired it from a caregiver because she could not start cultivating until receiving approval to operate this week, she said. State licensed Caregivers can have up to six patients and grow 12 plants for each.
Currently, Mead has seven different strains, or varieties, of marijuana, ranging from pure sativas, the “day time” stimulating medication, to pure indicas, the “night time” relaxing, pain relieving variety. They feature names like “Cindy 99,” Master Bubba Kush,” and “Sour Diesel.”
What started as a dream has turned into reality following a successful state inspection this week, Mead said. “It’s surreal.”
Risks and rewards
When Mead’s father bought the land where Cathy’s Compassion Center now sits, he said, “I want to make a difference in this community,” she said. Now, with the required non-profit component of the dispensary, Mead hopes to follow through on that wish.
“His legacy will continue,” Mead said.
She is currently seeking 501 (c)(3) status for the Positive Attitude for Hope Foundation and plans to use a portion of the dispensary’s proceeds to benefit the local community first and foremost, Mead said. She intends to purchase equipment and educational materials for local schools, fund drug awareness programs and provide scholarships for students who have lost a parent to cancer or had a parent who was seriously injured or killed in military service.
Along with community benefit comes concern, and Mead has spent nearly $40,000 setting up security to state standards and has a full-time guard on staff, she said. Unlike other dispensaries that have opened, Mead is able to accept debit or credit, which could reduce the amount of cash on hand.
With the dispensary in operation, patients within a 25-mile radius will no longer be able to grow their own medication when they get their cards renewed. For some, this closes one privilege granted in the law that has already been abused once in the Sierra Vista area.
With dispensaries preparing to set up shop in Sierra Vista and Bisbee, home growers will eventually face restrictions in these communities, too.
However, Rod Rothrock, acting sheriff of Cochise County, said the impact of dispensaries opening and the effects of the medical marijuana law overall are nebulous.
“It’s kind of a hold your breath and wait and see what happens,” he said. “We’re not sure how it will turn out, but we are aware of enforcement activity in other jurisdictions as a result of people violating the medical marijuana provisions.”
Rothrock fears that a lot of people will try to take advantage of the system but is sure that many dispensaries will strictly adhere to the law, he said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”