After getting raided by a SWAT team for growing marijuana six years ago, wheelchair-bound Parrish resident Cathy Jordan has a strain of marijuana named after her, called Cathy’s Choice. It will be marketed commercially by the son of a former marijuana trafficker for Pablo Escobar.
PARRISH — Sporting what was once an illegal smile, the woman who made medical and political history in the Sunshine State has come out with her own retail brand of medical marijuana. And the entrepreneur putting it on the market is the son of a man who once ran tons of marijuana into the U.S. for drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Attorney and cannabis-legalization lobbyist Brady Cobb — whose late flamboyant father C.W. “Dollar Bill” Cobb became a celebrated catch by federal agents nearly 40 years ago — is a newcomer to the Florida cannabis industry, with designs on becoming a giant killer. With aggressive, blue-chip acquisition moves underway in California, the CEO of SOL Global Investments jostled the local seismometer in August by announcing the rollout of a new product called “Cathy’s Choice.”
Based on years of genetic fine-tuning by the family of Parrish resident Cathy Jordan, the sativa-indica hybrid — produced by Cobb’s latest property, 3 Boys Farm in Ruskin — is a clone of the blend responsible for the unlikely survival story of a woman who has spent nearly half her years living with a fatal affliction.
“When you think about everything Cathy’s been through over the years, fighting the laws, fighting the politicians, the medical establishment, her story is very inspiring,” says Cobb. “So we’re very proud to represent this product.”
Diagnosed in 1986 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Jordan credits marijuana for her longevity. Just 5 percent of Gehrig’s patients live longer than 20 years, according to the ALS Association, and only four drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment. Cannabis, still considered a medically worthless Schedule 1 drug under the archaic federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, is not on that list.
Cathy’s Choice is a minor component of Cobb’s strategy to expand his beachhead in Florida, where medical industry sales could tally anywhere from $425 million to $525 million by the end of the year, according to estimates from Marijuana Business Daily.
Tied with Surterra Wellness for dispensaries at 31 apiece, Trulieve was the first to sell smokable flower and now accounts for 49.2 percent of state cannabis sales, or more than triple Surterra’s take, according to MBD. But snapping at Trulieve’s heels will be Los Angeles-based powerhouse MedMen.
MedMen opened its first state dispensary in West Palm Beach in June, with 11 other retail outlets — including a Main Street store in Sarasota, promising home delivery service to medical patients from Longboat Key to Nokomis — on the drawing board. And here’s an example of its clout:
In December 2015, a nonmedical, adult-legalization petition drive was initiated by an activist group called Sensible Florida. It has collected more than 88,000 signatures, enough for a judicial review but far short of the 766,200 names needed for ballot approval next February. Sensible Florida began soliciting donations last year and had collected $426,000 by August 31.
In late August, MedMen joined Surterra in sponsoring a legalization petition employing slightly different language. Within three weeks, they raised nearly $1.2 million.
By entering the fray, Cobb is thinking as large as his father did 40 years ago, when “Dollar Bill” was smuggling $300 million worth of Colombian cannabis into the States using everything from shrimp boats to ice cream trucks.
The elder Cobb was arrested in 1983 and drew a 20-year prison sentence. But with an assist from the likes of Johnny Cochrane and F. Lee Bailey, he was walking free after 27 months. His son became intrigued with the plant’s palliative properties when, during dad’s bout with the cancer that took his life in 2010, he noted how marijuana mitigated the pain.
From his home in Fort Lauderdale, Brady Cobb joined the medical movement in 2016, and has been busy on many fronts. Lobbying both political parties to reform marijuana banking laws, Cobb recruited seasoned cannabis horticulturists from Colorado to join his enterprise, including the grower who has nurtured a legendary strain called Chemdog.
Cobb’s Canadian-registered Sol Global has also agreed to buy six licensed dispensaries in California, and will soon acquire Northern Emeralds, perhaps the premier grow operation in Humboldt County, the Napa Valley of cannabis. Ultimately, Cobb intends to open 20 dispensaries — including in Manatee County — within a one-hour home-delivery drive to anywhere in Florida.
Cathy’s Choice was being legally grown at 3 Boys Farm before previous owner Robert Tornello sold the long-running organic agriculture operation to Sol Global. Trademarked by the Jordan family in 2016, the marijuana that became Cathy’s Choice was years in the making.
No stranger to cannabis before she became a medical patient, Jordan took the advice of her doctor in Delaware after getting the ALS verdict and agreed to quit consuming alcohol and marijuana. But in 1989, following three years of abstinence during which her condition deteriorated, and on the verge of committing suicide with an overdose of prescription pills, Jordan drew a few tokes of Myakka Gold during a visit to Florida, and everything changed.
Told that her life would likely end by drowning as her lungs flooded with fluids, she discovered the smoke helped clear her lungs and expectorate like no other product. She also regained enough muscle control to become ambulatory, at least for awhile. The revelations occurred three years before researchers discovered the first of the brain’s many endocannabinoids in 1992, and medical science is continuing to explore the full capabilities of these complex neurotransmitters.
Jordan’s 7.5-year struggle to get legal with the state is now a part of Florida’s obstructionist lore.
Repeated efforts to pass the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act were rebuffed in Tallahassee, and there was that infamous raid by the Manatee Sheriff’s Office in 2013, when deputies ripped up all 25 of her backyard plants. The ordeal was supposed to have ended in 2016, when a voter referendum, fueled by Orlando attorney John Morgan, repudiated lawmakers and passed with 71 percent support.
Over the years, Jordan had discovered that other means of ingestion — vaping, tinctures, etc. — didn’t work for her ALS. But that didn’t stop the Legislature from banning smokable cannabis, an embargo that ended earlier this year when new Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped the state’s litigation.
Jordan developed her palate through decades of trial-and-error, experimenting with maybe 50 strains. She once sampled an indica that made her blood pressure so low, she passed out; conversely, a sativa “made me so hyper, my eye started twitching.”
In a hotel room during a convention, she tried smoking crushed flower through an Apollo space capsule-looking vaporizer called the Volcano. It left her with a metallic aftertaste that wouldn’t quit. “I paid $15 for a hotel cheeseburger that tasted like aluminum foil.” Vape pens didn’t cut it, either. “I will never do that again.”
“It was the glycols they cut the THC (oils) with,” says her son, John. “The flavor made her gag.”
Lately, John Jordan does much of the translation for his mother, whose words are slurred by ALS. Confined to a wheelchair, too weak to hold so much as a fork, she relies on John for pretty much everything these days. Bob Jordan — her husband, John’s dad — is living in Maine for the foreseeable future. Cathy and Bob say they needed a break from each other.
“I’m really glad (Cathy’s Choice) is finally coming out,” says Bob Jordan, a Vietnam veteran. “People need to remember who she is and what this lady has done. It’s what we in the military call walking point, and we’ve walked point for a long, long time now, and not just us but a lot of other people too. But Cathy’s been a pioneer for the whole state.
“The dream was to come up with not just a great strain but also a standard. And I think it’s gonna be huge.”
Tested at 18.9 percent levels of THC — the psychoactive component of marijuana — Cathy’s Choice is generations of magnitude stronger than the 1 percent THC levels estimated in the average 1970s-era joint by the National Institute for Drug Abuse. But growers are now producing THC strains with percentages climbing into the low to mid-30s.
Cathy Jordan says her blend, which 3 Boys Farm sells for $48 an eighth, or 3.5 grams, has found the sweet spot that keeps her mind alert and her muscles relaxed. Nearing 70, she says she hopes to reach 72, which would give her the rare distinction of surviving ALS for half her life.
For Brady Cobb, making the first delivery of Cathy’s Choice to its namesake in late August was an unforgettable experience.
“What an amazing moment,” says Cobb, whose father likely would have appreciated the surrealism of their legal encounter. “When we handed it to her, she was crying because she’s been through such a fight. We all had red eyes, and it wasn’t from using the product.”