Texas now officially a medical marijuana state, kinda
The 2015 Texas legislative session set a record for bills related to medical marijuana. One bill made it through.
Of the 12 bills, some of which were identical because they were introduced in both the House and Senate, policy changes for marijuana penalties, medical marijuana, full legalization, and hemp were testified on late into the night at times.
Despite a strong showing at the capitol by activists and people who just wanted their children to have a fighting chance, the bill with the least amount of support moved swiftly through a legislature that is not known for fast action.
That bill legalizes medical marijuana for a very select group of Texans, and some argue that not a single person will benefit from it.
SB 339 authorizes the Texas Department of Public Safety, a law enforcement agency, not a health agency, to license and regulate growers and dispensaries to sell a final product called CBD oil to those who have severe epilepsy, once they have ruled out brain surgery, have received a recommendation from two neurologists or epileptologists, and a prescription.
Marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance according to federal law, meaning that it has no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse. This makes it illegal for doctors to prescribe medical cannabis.
In states where medical marijuana is legal, laws are worded so that doctors do not have to prescribe it, only recommend.
State legislators were made aware of this issue before the bill was passed, however they refused to amend the legislation to account for this shortcoming.
To get around this, the Department of Public Safety drafted policy that was recently finalized saying that a prescription would mean a doctor logging the medication request into a state database. It is unknown how well this would stand up to a legal challenge, or how many doctors would take the risk to involve themselves with such a program.
At least three licenses must be issued, and those who possess a license can grow, extract, and sell. The state expects to have three dispensaries operational by the September 2017 deadline.
Making the CBD oil requires that the plant be grown, and then the oil extracted from it so that it contains a very small amount of THC, the component that makes people “high.”
People were already initially against this idea because, as many testified during the medical cannabis bill hearings, a partial plant extract is not as effective as whole plant, and for many, especially those who have had to uproot their families to states where whole plant medical marijuana is legal, it is not effective at all.
One of the other major concerns is how those growers will obtain the seeds, as purchasing them from across state lines would be federally illegal.
Also a concern is that should some patients actually meet the requirements and obtain the prescription, how much would the CBD oil cost, given the high cost of starting and running a dispensary, and there being so few customers. Insurance coverage would likely not be an option as well.
An initial license will cost $6,000. A building with a secure separate area, along with equipment, employees, and sufficient funding for two years of operation will all factor into what the price tag on the final product will ultimately be.
Some even question if this can actually be considered a medical marijuana program given the limited scope of what components of the cannabis plant can be used.
The group who pushed the bill, C.A.F.E. Texas (Compassionate Access for Epilepsy), even state that they are not advocating for medical marijuana. They instead say they are “focused on advocating for legal and limited access to physician-directed use CBD oil that is low in delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).”
Given that so few, if any people stand to benefit from this new program, the push for better legislation in 2017 is already underway.
As Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 339 into law last year, he made a firm statement that Texans should not expect to see marijuana laws change any further while he remains governor.