Texas took an important step in its cautious and restrained embrace of marijuana during the recently completed legislative session as lawmakers passed and Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law an expansion of qualifying conditions beneath the umbrella of the 2015 Texas Compassionate Use Program.
Previously, epilepsy was the only condition that could be treated under the state’s medical marijuana program. However, Abbott signed House Bill 3703 last month, and the program now includes patients with autism, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer and incurable neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s Disease. Also eliminated was a provision requiring the approval of two licensed neurologists, rather than one.
The bill maintains the dose restriction of .5 percent THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. It was filed by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) and becomes effective Sept. 1. It passed easily in the House before an amended version passed unanimously in the Senate. The program will be regulated by the Texas Department of Public Safety, and patients seeking to obtain medical cannabis must have it prescribed by a qualified physician.
Expanding conditions that can be treated with cannabis oil was a thoughtful and necessary move without taking Texas down a path other states have chosen concerning marijuana use. All aspects of how medical cannabis may be used are accounted for, and this is a quality-of-life issue for people in the throes of tremendous suffering.
“This bill is about compassion,” Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) told the Texas Tribune. She was the Senate sponsor of the bill. “For patients participating in the (Compassionate Use Program), they have had a remarkable and life-altering change because of this. That’s compassion.”
The state should also be commended for the measured approach it is taking. Marijuana advocates claim more should have been done during this session, specifically saying those dealing with PTSD, a group that includes numerous veterans, are being overlooked.
However, steady progress, balanced against the pros and cons, is the best course, especially on the medical front as more knowledge is gained. Texas has long furrowed its collective brow at the mere mention of the word decriminalization when it comes to marijuana, and reassuring people this bill is not a pathway to legalization dominated conversation in the Senate.
“I am not for legalizing marijuana,” Campbell said in the Tribune’s story. “I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone.”
Rest assured, though, conversations about marijuana will likely ramp up again between now and the 2021 session, and the state should look at best practices and lessons learned from other states and not be in a hurry to move without strong, persuasive data and widespread support of the voting public.
Marijuana is now legal for medical purposes in 33 states. Texas also legalized hemp and hemp-derived products such as CBD oil during the session. The medical use bill gained traction in March when the lobbying group Texans for Expanded Access to Medical Marijuana took their case to Austin, the Tribune reported.
“HB 3703 will ensure more patients have access to medicine which will have a positive impact on their lives,” Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, the Austin chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told the Tribune. “Many more patients are still being left behind, however, and will now have to wait until the next legislative session in 2021 for their next opportunity to find relief.”