Find Kathy Gillespie at work these days, and you’re likely to see someone spattered with spackling and paint. That’s a long way from her background in corporate America, but Gillespie and company have a lot of work to do. Opening a 70,000-square-foot combined cultivation, production and dispensary center isn’t going to happen without her hand on the project.
“We’ve painted, we’ve spackled, we’ve laid the tile, we’ve cleaned the toilets,” Gillespie says with a laugh. “There isn’t anything I haven’t done.”
She is confident that the site, including the NevadaPure dispensary, will open in November (it was not open at press time). Sooner is better, Gillespie says, because it is costing her and other owners $5,000 a day in costs that have to be recouped.
Gillespie takes Elevate on a tour of the cavernous building, which used to be, back before the days of the “do-not-call-list,” a call center with thousands of tiny desks filled with thousands of people on thousands of telephones. “There was a sea of cubicles down there.”
Now, banks of marijuana seedlings, hanging lights, a modern production facility for preparing both edible cannabis products and creams and salves for topical application, and a large, slick-looking dispensary have replaced the 3,000 or so cubicles and phone lines. To keep costs under control, Gillespie and her co-owners did the demolition themselves. That included five full dumpsters of carpeting, she says, the condition of which still makes her shudder.
The thick concrete walls, largely without windows, of the first floor, however, provide the security that NevadaPure needs to keep its product safe and to fulfill state and local requirements. “We had a vision of what to do with it, what this building could do.”
Upstairs, there are offices for the executives. Gillespie has a corner office; next door is the woman with whom she has lived for some three decades, Barbara Allen. They are partners in life and business, both at NevadaPure and their other, ongoing business, A&B Printing.
When we toured NevadaPure’s new center in early November, the bright Las Vegas sun had provided us a chamber-of-commerce kinday, but not for the facility’s employees, who were busy ramping up for an opening within a few weeks.
It hasn’t been an easy path for Gillespie and company. There are some structural obstacles to building any medical cannabis business, and having all three components of the industry – cultivation, production, and dispensing – under one roof doesn’t make the process easier.
Gillespie sees two big threats to the emerging medical marijuana industry in Nevada. One is simply the amount of red-tape and bureaucracy that has to be navigated to win state and local approval for a cultivation or production center, or a dispensary.
“It is so cumbersome of a process,” she says. “I personally feel the process could be greatly streamlined.”
The product is, Gillespie notes, “medicine, not plutonium.”
The other, related but distinct, issue is that for now, at least, the cost of marijuana sold by unlicensed dispensaries that deliver to homes, or dealers that sell on the street, can undercut the legal, licensed product.
She says, however, that people seeking specific products for particular medical needs are taking a real chance by buying on the street.
“How do you know what you’re smoking?” Gillespie notes. The Pure center, she says, will soon be able to compete with street prices because of the “vertical integration” of having the cultivation, production and retail sale all in one place.
She says that by the time the Pure center is fully up and running, they may have as many as 10 distinct strains of cannabis that have been cultivated for years to produce exactly those qualities for which people are seeking. The emphasis is on providing a “safe, stable and secure supply of medicine.”
In practice, that means plants are cloned from verified strains with well-established characteristics. Gillespie shows us three clones of strains that are well-known to cannabis users, especially medical marijuana users: Lemon OG, Sour OG and the famous Charlotte’s Web, a strain rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, which many users believe is an effective treatment for some forms of epilepsy in adults and children, but low in the psychoactive component of tetrahydrocannabinol, THC. In other words, it has a medical application but isn’t likely to get users very high.
Gillespie says another strain, AC/DC, has similar attributes to Charlotte’s Web but with a higher plant yield, is less expensive to produce – an example of the continuing evolution of medical strains that is occurring throughout the industry.
Strains with low THC are a core product for medical cannabis, she explains. “For someone like my partner, she doesn’t want to get stoned,” Gillespie says. “She wants to go home and then sleep and have a restful night, without taking a pill.”
Gillespie’s interest in seeds and strains and plants and vegetation isn’t new. Gillespie, 63, admits to a youthful dalliance with recreational marijuana a few – well, three or four – decades ago. But professionally, before building A&B Printing into one of Las Vegas’ biggest print shops over the last 15 years, she worked with several agricultural businesses, corporations with annual sales in the hundreds of millions. Gillespie, in fact, has a science degree from Purdue University in horticulture.
Along her life path, Gillespie became an active supporter of progressive politics. Her commitment extends beyond her personal stake in lesbian-gay-bisexual and transgender issues; just about every progressive politician and campaign in Southern Nevada has their printing done at A&B, in part because that union “bug” printed on the campaign mailer is a must for those seeking labor’s support.
A&B is a union shop, but so is NevadaPure, Gillespie says.
A&B has contributed about $60,000 so far this year to progressive causes and campaigns, she says. NevadaPure will continue that progressive heritage.
During a long conversation, Gillespie relates a pair of experiences that cause her to choke up. Those experiences helped cement her progressive perspective – and they help explain why she feels that NevadaPure, and medical marijuana, are inherently progressive factors in the community.
One experience that brings tears to her eyes is the death of her father, a terrible trial that was the result of a lifetime of alcohol abuse, she says. “Nobody has ever died from an overdose of marijuana.”
Gillespie says that it would be much easier to get a license to sell alcohol despite the overwhelming evidence that alcohol can be toxic and deadly over both short and longtime spans.
Another emotional trigger is her work with the gay community during the first years of the AIDS crisis, while she lived in upstate New York, when big pharmaceutical companies were slow to respond with research and drugs while thousands died.
“Barbara and I, living in Syracuse, we must have had 20 of our closest friends die of HIV,” the virus that leads to AIDS. “I got a real distaste for the legal pharmaceutical companies.”
Medical marijuana would have eased the pain and strengthened patients facing those diseases in a way that traditional pharmaceuticals couldn’t, she says. Allen, Gillespie’s partner, faced similar end-of-life issues with her mother.
Cannabis products can promote appetite and help patients who are on traditional pharmaceuticals, including chemotherapy for cancer. But without medical marijuana laws in place, “We had no safe way of getting it for our parents,” Gillespie says.
In October, Gillespie received recognition for her community values. She was honored as the “Progressive Business Owner of 2015” by Battle Born Progress, a statewide group working for progressive causes such as raising the minimum wage and keeping public lands public.
Gillespie admits that running A&B while building NevadaPure from scratch has not been an easy job. She been working 12- to 15-hour days for months, but the end of the beginning looks close, she says. The goal is to get medicine into the hands of patients as soon as possible.
Gillespie has no illusions about the pool of potential consumers.
“For some people, this is just another vice,” she says. “It needs to be licensed and controlled. For some people, though, this is medication, and it needs to be regulated that way.”
The focus at NevadaPure will be to provide medicine that people need, she promises. Income is important, but not the final objective. “We’re not in this just to make a whole ton of money.”