Willcox Bowie Medical Marijuana Dispensary Cochise Cathys Compassion Center
First rural medical marijuana dispensary opens in Cochise
By Jon Johnson
At the base of the Dragoon Mountain Range nestled between pecan fields and family farms sits an unassuming manufactured home building. If not for a sign alerting motorists of its purpose, few people would realize that Arizona’s first operating rural medical marijuana dispensary sat at the end of the driveway.
Cathy’s Compassion Center is located at 1825 W. Dragoon Rd. in the town of Cochise. It is the single medical marijuana dispensary for the Willcox Community Health Analysis Area. After voters approved the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (Proposition 203) in November 2010, the Arizona Department of Health Services was tasked with creating a medical marijuana program and issuing identification cards, which it began doing April 14, 2011. The act also requires the AZDHS to approve dispensary locations of one per each CHAA. There are 125 separate CHAA’s throughout the state.
Owner and operator Cathy Mead is a breast cancer survivor who began to see marijuana in a different light when she witnessed how it helped her father when he was ravaged by cancer.
“Knowing what cancer patients go through, and knowing the stigma that I had to overcome with my dad when he tried marijuana back then, I wanted to reach out and help people that maybe wouldn’t normally turn to it,” Mead said.
The location of the dispensary was also greatly influenced by her father, who purchased the property a few years before he died with the intention of making a difference in the community.
“He passed away from lung cancer and really didn’t get to fulfill his dream,” Mead said. “When the opportunity to have a dispensary came up, the first thing I thought of was my dad’s dream and the opportunity we would have because they have to be run as a nonprofit. We could create a foundation and give back to the community (to) let his legacy continue.”
Mead plans on being able to make a difference by playing a role in program development. She hopes to assess the area’s needs and help fulfill them, including having drug prevention workshops for the children and offering college scholarships to children who have lost a parent to cancer or are the children of a veteran who has lost their life in service to their country.
“We’re going to go to the schools and see what the needs are there; if they need new computers, or playgrounds or shade covers.”
Mead also plans on being able to fund medical research and educate the medical community about the value of cannabis.
While a dispensary in Glendale and one in Tucson opened a week before Cathy’s Compassion Center, the Cochise location is the first dispensary situated in a rural location and is not limited by selling only a fraction of the amount a patient is legally able to obtain like the dispensary in Glendale. Medical marijuana card holders are allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks.
After passing through an open gate (which is closed during nonbusiness hours) patients make their way up a freshly graveled driveway. Upon reaching the front steps, patients are required to show their state-issued cards to a security camera before an operator electronically unlocks the door, and the patient is granted entrance to a small waiting/receptionist room. The always-locked door is just the first of about $40,000 worth of security measures that went into the site, and includes pass key doors, numerous security cameras that continually record to an off-site hard drive and a security officer.
After a patient’s identity is verified with the AZDHS database, the client is led one at a time to another electronically locked room where medical-grade cannabis displayed in glass jars of various sizes is dispensed. In addition to various strains and grades of cannabis ranging from pure sativas to pure indicas featuring names such as “Grand Daddy Perps,” “Sour Diesel,” “Master Kush” and “Cinderella 99,” the dispensary also offers hash – a concentrated form of cannabis – and kif – a fine powder created by rubbing tetrahydrocannabinol crystals off cannabis. THC is the main active ingredient in cannabis. The dispensary also offers pre-rolled joints with filters consisting of either a gram or half of a gram of cannabis.
“It’s high quality,” Mead said. “Even the B-grade is still higher than a lot of people offer. Our A-plus is really high end.”
Prices for the cannabis start at $20 per gram and is discounted according to the quantity of a certain strain a patient purchases during the visit. The kif is listed at between $30 to $50 per gram as it is more refined and takes less for the desired effect. The hash is even more expensive.
Mead would love to offer edible marijuana-infused products and plans to hopefully offer them in the future. According to the law, the all cannabis and cannabis products must be grown and produced in Arizona and edibles must be created in a state-certified kitchen that is solely dedicated for medical marijuana purposes.
“I hope to offer that sooner rather than later,” Mead said.
Because the dispensary is located just within 25 miles of Willcox, most patients who live in the Willcox area will not be able to renew their cultivation endorsements on their medical marijuana cards that currently allows them to grow up to 12 plants of their own at a time. Caregivers in the area, who are currently allowed to list five patients and grow up to 60 plants at a time, will also not be able to renew their cultivation endorsements. A caregiver from Goodyear who cultivates indoors has provided cannabis to the dispensary, which also features outdoor marijuana grown in Cochise County.
The situation is sort of a catch-22 for Cathy’s Compassion Center, which currently relies solely on caretakers and patients to help provide their product since they were not able to open with a cultivation site. Mead said she hopes to have a cultivation site in the future. If she isn’t able to, she would likely have to purchase the medicine from other dispensaries with cultivation sites as caregivers’ and patients’ cultivation endorsements expire.
There is a push, however, to amend the AMMA to allow patients and caregivers to continue to cultivate even when they live within 25 miles of a dispensary. Given the state’s track record where it has fought the implementation of the voter’s will for two years and still continues to appeal court losses, it is unlikely that such an action would happen in a timely manner.
Two states recently legalized cannabis for adult recreational use, and there are 18 states that have legalized it for medicinal use. President Barack Obama has stated that enforcing the federal law against marijuana prohibition in states that have legalized it for recreational or medicinal use would be a low priority for the government, and Congress is expected to debate whether to keep cannabis as a Schedule I drug with no medical value or to reclassify it so doctors would be able to prescribe it as they see fit.
No matter how the law continues to play out on a statewide and national level, Mead and her band of loyal employees will do what they can to offer the highest-grade medicine available to patients who desire to utilize a drug that was once widely prescribed for a number of ailments prior to its prohibition.
“I feel great (about being the first rural dispensary to open),” Mead said. “It was a dream that came true, and there is so many things that we want to do with it for everybody that we just can’t wait. We’re really honored to have the opportunity.”
Cathy’s Compassion Center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Deliveries and appointments to see the medical director or pain management counselor are available on Mondays by appointment. Call the center at 1-866-291-8797 for more information.