When Governor Greg Abbott signed off on SB 339 in June, 2015, the Texas medical marijuana program was created — such as it is. The program is extremely limited and, critics say, unworkable. It allows only people suffering from severe epilepsy to participate, and they only have access to cannabidiol (CBD) oil that is extremely low in THC content. The medicinal cannabis available in Texas can have no more than 0.5 percent THC.
But there are several other facets of the program that make it very disappointing to advocates of medical cannabis. The law requires that doctors must first join a registry before they can recommend CBD to their patients. They must provide information such as the dosages they recommend, how those dosages will be administered and how much cannabis is needed to fulfill the patient’s needs.
To qualify for the program, a patient must be a Texas resident who has been diagnosed with severe epilepsy. He or she must go to a doctor who devotes a substantial amount of practice to epilepsy diagnosis and treatment, and the doctor must be certified in either neurology or epilepsy by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. The patient must also have received at least two traditional treatments for seizures, and it must be shown that those treatments were not effective.
While patients eligible to receive medical marijuana in Texas will be protected from criminal prosecution, as of March, 2017, there were no dispensaries operating in the state. Texas lawmakers have ground the process of providing medical cannabis to patients to a halt. Not only did they slash the number of licenses that would be issued from 12 to three, but they increased the licensing fee by a staggering amount. The original law set the licensing fee at $6,000, but that was later increased to $1.3 million. In addition, they made operating a cultivation facility even more burdensome by requiring that any facility have 24-hour security provided by a Texas state trooper.
Even though that licensing fee was lowered to $488,520, many prospective dispensary owners are still balking, saying it still doesn’t make sense to pay the fee from a business standpoint. And while the 24-hour state trooper requirement was later eliminated, Texas will still require dispensaries to be inspected every two weeks.
The original bill called for dispensaries to be fully operational by Sept. 1, 2017, but with all the obstacles being placed in front of prospective owners, it was looking very doubtful that the deadline would be met. As a result, patients will very likely have to continue to wait for the therapeutic medicine that can relieve their suffering. Either that, or they’ll have to go out-of-state to obtain CBD oil, risking federal prosecution for transporting the cannabis extract across state lines.
As currently written, the Texas medical marijuana program is largely unworkable, raising the question as to whether it would even be worth it for anyone to open a dispensary in the first place. The problem is that the law requires doctors participating in the program to write a prescription for CBD oil, rather than the “recommendation” that is required in states that have truly workable medicinal cannabis programs.
The issue with writing a prescription for pot is that cannabis remains illegal under federal law, no matter what form is being prescribed. As a result, physicians would be writing prescriptions for a controlled substance and could lose their licenses as a result. For the program to work, the law will have to be amended to eliminate the prescription requirement.
Forbes ran an article in February, 2017 showing just how much Texas stands to lose if it fails to create a legitimate medical cannabis program that encompasses many of the same qualifying conditions included in other state programs. Instead of limiting it to only patients suffering from severe epilepsy, the article stated that if the Texas program was expanded to include conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, severe nausea and others, nearly two million patients could benefit.
And the state would see a financial windfall. According to the article, if a true medical cannabis program was implemented in Texas, sales could reach as much as $600 million just two years later, providing up to $100 million in tax revenue.
There have been efforts among some state legislators to take a common-sense approach to expanding access to medical marijuana in Texas.
Bills have been introduced to not only increase the number of qualifying conditions, but also to expand the types of marijuana that will be available.
However, as long as Texas government continues to be dominated by hardline conservatives who refuse to consider the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, it is extremely doubtful that any real progress can be made.