Doctors register for Texas medical marijuana program
Seven doctors have registered for the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP), which legalizes CBD oil extracted from low-THC marijuana plants.
Enacted by the state legislature in 2015, TCUP is now getting some legs under it. Two businesses have been fully licensed to grow, extract, and sell the medicine. They include Cansortium Texas and Compassionate Cultivation, with Suterra Texas having been awarded a conditional license and is pending full approval. State law requires that three businesses be licensed by September 1, 2017.
Now that physicians have gotten on board, sales may begin as early as late December or early January when products will first become available.
In order to get a prescription for the CBD extract, which is a compound of the cannabis plant known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure properties, a patient with intractable epilepsy who is a resident of Texas must be approved by a participating doctor registered with the Texas Department of Public Safety, and a second registered physician must concur with the determination that a patient can benefit from the medicine. Patients do not have to register or pay a fee, though their doctor will enter them into a state maintained database, and there are no age requirements. Medicine will be delivered to the patients by the dispensing organization, though there will be a few storefronts.
This medicine would contain very trace amounts of THC, the compound which is associated with the “high” experienced when consuming the plant as a whole.
A public information request by Heather Fazio with Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy shows that those doctors include Dr. Charles Szabo, Dr. Lola Morgan, and Dr. Linda Leary, all with Medical Arts and Research Center UT Health San Antonio, Dr. Karen Keough with Child Neurology Consultants of Austin, Dr. Gina Jetter with Northeast Texas Neurology Associates in Tyler, Dr. Susan Arnold with Children’s Medical Center Dallas, and Dr. Benny Wang with Texas Electrodiagnostics in The Woodlands.
These doctors were registered with the state as of November 21, 2017.
Concerns have been raised about the viability of TCUP from the outset due to the wording of the law. In other states where medical cannabis is legal, doctors are directed to “recommend” patients for medical cannabis, however Texas law requires doctors to “prescribe” the medicine, which could put them at odds with federal law and jeopardize their ability to prescribe medications.
Texas law defines “prescription” as “An entry in the compassionate-use registry that meets the requirements of Texas Occupations Code, Chapter 169.”
This would indicate that there is no requirement of a prescription by federal standards, though it remains to be seen how federal authorities will react to this. Ultimately, it would not be a traditional prescription, and would not seem to fall under federal prescription regulations.
Marijuana is federally classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse. Doctors are not allowed to prescribe these drugs.
“We remain concerned that doctors will be required to violate federal law to participate,” Fazio told Houston Press earlier this year. “A simple change to the law would provide doctors with the protection they need.”
State representative Stephanie Klick, a Republican from Fort Worth and also a nurse, was one of the main sponsors of TCUP. She points to the compassionate-use registry prescription, saying that this wording allows doctors to not risk their federal prescription licenses. “We worked with physicians that treat people with intractable epilepsy in drafting our language, and that’s what they felt comfortable with,” she said.
Research by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram estimates that the price of obtaining the medicine will be between $45 and $90 each time, though prices could be higher due to large operational costs and few patients. The state does not regulate the price of the medicine, making it hard to predict how much it will actually cost.
Initial licensing fees cost upwards of $500,000 for each company, with about $318,000 due in two years in order to keep operating.
Efforts to expand TCUP during the 2017 legislative session garnered the support of over half of state lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives, however the bill died due to not being scheduled for the House floor in time. That bill would have increased the types of qualifying patients and allowed whole plant medical cannabis similar to the medicine found in 29 other states and the District of Columbia.