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Patients trek across Texas for medical marijuana legislation

You’ve got to fight for your rights, and 42 Texans did just that earlier this week when they went to the Texas capitol to lobby for medical marijuana.

While Texas is already technically a medical marijuana state due to legislation passed during the 2015 legislative session, the program is extremely limited, allowing only CBD extracts for children with epilepsy so severe that brain surgery has already been ruled out.

There are four pieces of legislation currently pending in committee related to medical cannabis. Three of those bills would legalize whole plant medical marijuana, and the fourth gives patients an affirmative defense in court. Currently those arrested for marijuana possession who are consuming the plant in a medicinal capacity are prohibited from telling jurors. In all there are 20 cannabis related bills which have been submitted to the Texas legislature.

Dubbed a Patient Lobby Day, put on by the Patient Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (PACT), most of those who went were there to support both SB 269 and HB 2107. The bills are identical, one for the House, the other for the Senate. They’ve both currently pending in committee, awaiting hearings which have not yet been scheduled.

Most people lobbying are patients, those who will likely qualify for the proposed whole plant medical program.

Eric Espinoza, a 33-year-old resident of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, suffers from cerebral palsy and was the subject of a short 13 minute film. He made a five hour trek to Austin to speak with state lawmakers.

“So many things this week have led me to today. Where myself and others gather to honor Vincent Lopez with our activism, volunteerism and voices” Espinoza says. Lopez is the founder (PACT), a stalwart advocate who was a fixture at the state capitol. Lopez was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 11, which drastically weakened his muscles and body. He was never afraid to put legislators in the uncomfortable position of having to watch him sit in his wheelchair during the long hearings on medical marijuana for bills they would ultimately never pass, despite the great relief a medical cannabis program would bring to him. Lopez passed away in 2015.

“I am doing my part to show up and speak out for those that can’t make the trip or handle the physical stress,” Espinoza added. “To show legislators that there are patients who are fed up enough to knock on a few doors and ask for the support of their representatives, senators, and fellow Texans.”

He continued, “Like with most of our lobby days people are always aware of our presence at the capitol, lending their support of our cause in even a simple nod of approval. Mostly patients are frustrated with the lack of face to face meetings with actual representatives. We all have 140 days to change the laws to protect families, patients and veterans; to ensure that we all have a choice for a safer alternative.”

SB 269 and HB 2107 would cover a range of medical conditions, including 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.

Espinoza’s friend Shaun McAlister accompanied him to the capitol, who has his own reasons for giving his time.

“For me, the courage to visit our state capitol and sit down with elected officials to discuss cannabis prohibition began with a deeply held personal philosophy that Texans do not deserve to be punished for choosing to medicate with a substance we know to be safer than alcohol, tobacco and most pharmaceuticals,” McAlister states.

“Having a best friend with cerebral palsy and an older brother with Stage 4 Mantle Cell Lymphoma made this fight bitterly personal for me, and the reality of bureaucrats with little-to-zero knowledge of this plant voting year after year to keep it illegal was no longer acceptable. So rather than continuing to run and hide, or simply be content with ‘getting away with’ my illegal cannabis use, I made up my mind to educate myself about cannabis, the law and what it would take to finally end America’s war against this plant.”

McAlister heads up one of the largest marijuana advocacy organizations in Texas, the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

DFW NORML Executive Director Shaun McAlister's collage of office visits with Texas state lawmakers during the 2017 Patient Lobby Day.
DFW NORML Executive Director Shaun McAlister’s collage of office visits with Texas state lawmakers during the 2017 Patient Lobby Day.

McAlister adds, “Is it nerve-wracking to sit down with elected officials to discuss an illegal drug? Absolutely! But if our lawmakers don’t hear from us, their voting, tax-paying constituents, then they will have no reason to support marijuana law reform, now or ever. It’s truly up to Texans whether or not our lawmakers will decriminalize cannabis or expand our limited medical marijuana program.”

He concluded, “If Texans remain silent on this issue, we can expect a minimum of another two years of prohibition while the rest of the world continues to implement sensible marijuana policy. Conversely, if Texans make the phones ring in Austin over the next few weeks, our state could have one of the best, most comprehensive medical marijuana programs in the entire country. The question is, do we want it bad enough to pick up the phone and ask for it? I certainly hope so.”

A strong majority of Texans agree that patients should have access to medical marijuana, making many question why patients must travel across the state to ask lawmakers to pass legislation which many believe should already be law. A 2015 Texas Tegna Poll indicates 71 percent of the state’s voters would support expanding medical marijuana treatments for patients, while a 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll shows that only 17 percent of Texans oppose any changes to Texas’ marijuana laws.

While the Patient Lobby Day has come and gone, there is still a lot of work to do to get these bills out of committee. Find out how you can help by clicking here.

Stay up to date with the latest cannabis news from a Texas perspective by following the Texas Cannabis Report social media pages.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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