Austin’s cannabis-based business community is meeting Thursday and Friday at the city’s first-ever cannabis entrepreneurs conference.

Speakers will discuss both the medicinal and non-medicinal uses of marijuana and the business opportunities in Texas and nationwide as laws and regulation morph.

Morris Denton is one of the conference speakers. He’s the CEO Compassionate Cultivation, the first medical cannabis dispensary to operate in Texas. Two other dispensaries are licensed.

“This was really not just a startup but also a market creation,” Denton told KXAN this week. “You know, we’ve had to learn a lot.”

Denton opened his warehouse south of Austin at the beginning of February. There, employees grow, harvest, and process low-THC marijuana into cannabidiol, or CBD, oil to treat patients with intractable epilepsy, the only condition for which doctors can prescribe medical cannabis in the state.

Like any startup, he said, they’re “constantly in evaluation mode,” looking for ways to improve. Small changes since they opened include using different kinds of bottles and syringes. More broadly, they’re always working out how to exist and work with strict state regulations as the first dispensary to operate.

“We operate in a fishbowl in a lot of ways,” Denton said.

He’ll be sharing his experiences at the Austin Cannabis Entrepreneur conference, a two-day event starting Thursday at the Hyatt Regency.

“Something new for Austin. We’ll see if it works,” Hugh Forrest chuckled. 

Forrest, the head of programming for SXSW, is producing the conference and said he sees a lot of opportunity for central Texas-based entrepreneurs interested in marijuana-centric startups.

“A lot of indications are that this is the future,” Forrest said. “We may be completely wrong on this cannabis stuff, or we may be completely right. Who knows?”

The ACE conference also includes speakers involved in investment and real estate funds geared toward cannabis-related ventures across the country, as well as an operator of an Austin-based online smoke shop.

Forrest expects about 200 people to show up. The conference is open to anyone interested in cannabis-based startups, and registration is $75

It’s no coincidence that the conference overlaps both with Friday’s date of 4/20 or with the Austin Reggae Festival happening this weekend. “It makes for a good opportunity,” Forrest said.

While the focus of the conference is medicinal marijuana, he added, cannabis laws are changing across the country, and he doesn’t want to discount recreational uses.

“We’re not encouraging people to do illegal things,” he said. “We’re outlining what is legal now, what could be legal in the future, and what kind of opportunities that will open up.”

Denton sees a lot of open road in the future. His company plans to introduce new CBD oil delivery methods, including an inhaler or vaporizer and a suppository. He also envisions the legislature expanding the list of ailments it’s allowed to treat.

“The only way to get there is by sharing stories and hearing from other people and hearing what their motivations are and what their focus is,” he said.

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