Half of Texas House signs on to medical marijuana bill after hearing
Nearly half of the Texas House of Representative’s 150 legislators have signed on to a whole plant medical marijuana bill after a marathon hearing Tuesday night.
Currently 73 legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, are listed as sponsors of HB 2107.
The House Public Health Committee held a hearing on the bill, which lasted over four hours, and included testimony from doctors and other health professionals, veterans, patients, caregivers – especially those with children, and activists. There were plenty of tears shed as well.
In all, the witness count was 66 for, and one against according to a person at the hearing.
Dr. Richard Hurley, a pain management specialist, was the lone voice of opposition. Representing himself and the Texas Pain Society, he is quoted as stating that marijuana is both addictive and not effective for pain relief. Video of the hearing shows Dr. Hurley being called for testimony at 4:19:05, with the hearing for HB 2107 beginning at 2:33:00.
“Specifically, our opposition is to the inclusion of severe pain,” Dr. Hurley begins. He then adds that there is very insufficient scientific evidence for the medical use of smoked cannabis for pain stemming from multiple medical conditions.
While many patients do smoke marijuana to get instant relief, there are many who also consume the plant orally, which can provide for a more effective treatment.
He cited a lack of clinical studies which would take years through the FDA, and stated that they simply do not have the data needed to know what the dosage needs to be. He did however talk about the promise of synthetic cannabis medicines. Dr. Hurley also referenced a small group of studies which showed that about 50 percent of patients noticed a 30 percent reduction in pain from smoked cannabis, but predominantly that pain was neuropathic.
Dr. Hurley further stated that pain is subjective, and about 15 percent of those who come into his pain clinic are already consuming marijuana. He asks those patients why, if they are already consuming marijuana, do they come to him for additional drugs.
“If this is approved for severe pain, virtually 75 percent of my patients will qualify for this drug.” As he completed that statement, there was applause throughout the room.
As he concluded his testimony, Dr. Hurley was asked to remain for further questions and was inquired about his thoughts on the legislation passed in 2015 which established the Texas Compassionate Use Program for CBD oil. Dr. Hurley again expressed his opinion that doctors are untrained on recommending medical cannabis due to the lack of studies, and that they do not know how much to recommend, or what the various levels of dosage should be as they recommend increasing amounts.
He then alluded to the 1980s when the opioid epidemic first began, and doctors were prescribing painkillers without having enough knowledge about them.
Dr. Hurley also brought up the fact that Washington and Colorado both passed medical marijuana eight years before they legalized it for recreational use, so he see’s Texas as being four sessions away from doing the same if they pass a medical marijuana bill this session. He then went on to say that marijuana is addictive, “it’s not strong, but it is 10 percent.”
Many in the room expressed their disagreement with his statement. Directly after he added, “you’re hearing lots of laughter and lots of stuff but what studies are available show that 10 percent of patients get addicted, and the people who are more likely to get addicted are younger people.” He continued, “and there are numerous studies out which show that long term use in young children may affect the brain.”
Following Dr. Hurley, the committee called Dr. Miles Day, an anesthesiologist, who was scheduled to speak against the bill, however he was not present at the time.
People of all ages were present for the hearing, however given that seniors make up a large amount of those who experience health issues, that group in particular was well represented.
Dawn Brooks, a 65-year-old retiree, spoke of the four major surgeries she has had to endure the past few years on her knees, hip, and shoulder. Concerned about the effects of the opiates prescribed to her such as oxycodone, she instead opted to manage her pain with cannabis during recovery. “Cannabis was the safer way,” she stated during the hearing. She added that there are instances where seniors are dying, not because it is their time, but because of overuse of pharmaceuticals.
Army veteran of 25 years and retired school teacher David Bass also spoke in favor of medical marijuana. “I use cannabis as medicine, I am 60 percent disabled for chronic pain for injuries I received in the Army, and for post traumatic stress,” Bass began in his statement to committee members. He stated that he uses marijuana due to its effectiveness, and because it is safer than opioids and psychotropic drugs, which he added are addictive, and something he would have to take for the rest of his life.
“The problem is that in Texas I’m a criminal,” Bass goes on to state, saying that he has to purchase and consume his medicine illegally, but that he does not live his life as a criminal. “I’ve been married for 38 years, I own my home, I pay my taxes, I vote, I’m a productive honest citizen.”
He adds, “What I need is to be able to talk to my physician about cannabis. I need to be able to purchase cannabis that has been grown in a state-regulated grow facility, and sold in a state licensed dispensary. I am a retired Army officer and a proud veteran of two wars. I don’t want to be labeled a criminal, but if I have to choose between addictive medications and psychotropic drugs that make me non-functional, or cannabis, I choose cannabis. My health is my responsibility, I have to be logical. My experience the past seven years using cannabis as medicine proves that it is effective for chronic pain and PTSD.”
As Bass concluded and walked away from the podium, one of the committee members thanked him for his testimony and service, and applause was heard throughout the room.
Dr. Audrey Powell, a pediatrics and internal medicine physician, testified in favor on HB 2107. She stated that she was not only there as a doctor, but also as the mother of an 11-year-old son named Mitchell who has severe autism which was diagnosed at age 2. “He has severe aggressive behaviors, he has insomnia, he has hyper-activity, seizures, and a host of other presentations with his autism,” she testified.
She added that he has worked with multiple specialists and therapists, and has even gone to Panama to try stem cell therapy, but has only seen minimal improvement.
“Mitchell has severe self-injurious behavior. He headbangs, he hits his head on the floor, on the walls, he’s kicked out the windows in our home, he’s kicked in walls, we’ve replaced those windows with plexiglass but I still fear for his safety. He has jumped from heights and caused fractures of his foot. He also has had high ankle sprains, he is at risk for elopement, and is very much a safety concern for my family.”
Dr. Powell says that in addition to injuring himself, he has also injured their family, teachers, and other students at school as well. Earlier this year he ruptured her cornea. Her husband, who works in law enforcement, suffered a rotatorcuff injury while trying to restrain their son.
She states that he has been on multiple medications, which has had severe side-effects. She asked the committee as a medical doctor to consider passing HB 2107 so that her and other families can have an alternative medication.
The number of patients and caregivers testifying ran late into the night, finishing just before 2:00 am. Some even questioned if they would be around by the time another legislative session is held in two years.
Overall, the consistent message was that the need for medical cannabis is urgent, and while many don’t want to have to leave Texas for a medical marijuana state, some simply do not have the means to do so.
A number of patients would qualify under HB 2107, including those with cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, sickle cell anemia, severe fibromyalgia, spinal cord disease, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury or post-concussion syndrome, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or Huntington’s disease.
Also qualifying would be any chronic medical condition which produces cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or any other medical condition approved as a debilitating medical condition by department rule or any symptom caused by the treatment of a medical condition that is approved as a debilitating medical condition by department rule.
The bill was left pending after testimony, and at this time it is unknown when a vote will be held on it. Should it pass out of committee, it will head to the Calendar Committee where it will be voted on to be scheduled for the full House. With half the of chamber in support, it would be expected to pass, then head to the Senate before ultimately making its way to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk.
Monday, May 29 is the last day of the Texas legislative session. All bills must be passed out of their respective committees by Monday, May 8 and out of the full House by Thursday, May 11.
Update 5/5 – HB 2107 has been passed out of committee.
*Edit: We incorrectly reported 75 legislators initially, however it is expected that there will be 75 sponsors or more before the session ends.