Mar 7 1:27 PM

Touring the marijuana facility growing plants to save children’s lives

When the crew and I landed in Denver, the entire city was full of civic pride. The Denver Broncos were preparing to take on the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. While the Broncos’ subsequent loss cast a damper on the citizenry Monday morning, we were still very excited to meet the family causing so much controversy in the medicinal marijuana debate.

The Stanley brothers' facility in Colorado grows a variety of marijuana strains.

We met Jesse Stanley at the Denver lab for the operation he runs with his siblings, Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises. Located next to a gluten-free bakery, the marijuana aroma competes with the smell of cran-oat muffins but is definitely winning that battle. Far from high-tech, the Stanleys' facility extracts cannabidiol (CBD) oil from plants imported from their dispensary in Colorado Springs. Jesse is passionate about the work his family does in providing epileptic children and other sick patients, including people struggling with cancer, with medicinal marijuana.

From a conservative Christian family, the Stanley brothers don't fit the stereotypical hippie image some people may associate with pot growers. In fact, five of the six brothers were working in the oil fields of Texas prior to starting and eventually building one of the largest grow facilities in the state of Colorado. Initially, the decision to grow pot under what was then Colorado's new medicinal marijuana laws was a business move. The oldest Stanley brother saw an opportunity to make money.

However, as the brothers began to treat more and more sick people, they became believers. Meeting Charlotte Figi tipped the scales.

Charlotte is one of approximately 400,000 American children who suffer from medication resistant epilepsy. Moved by Charlotte's mother’s insistence, the Stanley brothers hesitantly began treating the young girl with CBD oil. The results were astounding. She went from three to four seizures an hour down to only three or four seizures in six months.

Currently, the Stanley brothers are treating nearly 200 epileptics with a special strain of marijuana that they’ve dubbed "Charlotte's Web." Nearly all have seen dramatic reductions in the frequency and intensity of their seizures.

Our second day in Colorado, we drove up the Rocky Mountains to the Stanley brothers grow facility. At the end of a long, unplowed driveway we were warmly welcomed into a log cabin that serves as both their headquarters and packaging center.

Having spent all my life in a state where recreational marijuana is illegal, it was strange to see such large quantities of the plant being handled so openly. There are roughly six people on staff who spend the day sorting, trimming and packaging plants. In addition to growing Charlotte's Web, which is a strain with very low THC content, the Stanley brothers also grow many other strains for recreational use. These recreational plants are the bread and butter of their business, providing the revenue stream that allows them to supply patients with Charlotte's Web for extremely low prices.

Our next stop was the greenhouse. Joel Stanley, the oldest brother, gave us a tour. To say their operation is heavily regulated would be an understatement. They showed us the cameras stationed all over the greenhouse that give state agencies the ability to monitor their operation at any time. They also showed us how every plant is tagged with a unique code that is tracked from grow to dispensary to customer sale.

The greenhouse operation seemed relaxed and casual until all of these regulations and compliances that must be rigidly followed were explained. That’s why, according to Joel Stanley,  the brothers are currently planning to move the part of their operation that grows Charlotte’s Web to Uruguay.

The plan is not to escape state regulations. Instead, the aim is to have clinical trials done out of the country because federal laws make it impossible to send Charlotte's Web to patients outside of Colorado. The strain and the CBD extract produced from it can’t even go through the testing necessary to officially become categorized as a medicine. Under the Controlled Substance Act, all compounds found in marijuana are classified as Schedule 1 drugs. As a result, CBD is still grouped with drugs like heroin and cocaine even though it doesn't actually get anyone high.

Ironically, if the Stanley brothers were to grow Charlotte’s Web in a foreign country they could then import it to any state in the U.S. as hemp.

According to the State Budget Committee, Colorado has already taken in $610 million dollars in revenue from the sale of pot. Currently, there are more small business and LLC applications pending in the city of Denver than ever before. Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises was at the forefront of growing and selling medicinal marijuana in Colorado, but as new businesses flood the state, they’ll once again move ahead of the curve by taking a bold new step, leaving the area in hopes of helping patients all over the country.

 

Watch "TechKnow," Sunday at 7:30PM ET/4:30PM ET on Al Jazeera America.

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