Planning for the Texas Legislative Session: Important Things to Know About Texas Medical Cannabis History
Feature photo credit: Bobby Scheidemann Photography
Since California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996, the medical cannabis movement has gained unquestionable momentum across the country. Currently 46 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have made it legal for their citizens to access some form of medical cannabis.
While many states have changed their medical cannabis laws through ballot initiatives and referendums put forth directly to voters, that’s not how the process works in Texas. All laws are enacted through the legislature, which meets every two years. The 86th Texas legislative session got underway Jan. 8.
For advocates and allies who want to support expansion of the Texas medical cannabis program to include more qualifying medical conditions, here’s a quick review of how the current law was passed, who it covers and how individual citizens can help in efforts to increase access to Texans in need.
The Compassionate Use Act: Who Can Access Medical Cannabis In Texas?
In 2015, the Texas Legislature made history when it passed the Compassionate Use Act (CUA) to create a state medical cannabis program. By design, the CUA is conservative in scope. It allows low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil products to be manufactured in Texas by licensed companies and prescribed by registered physicians. All cannabis oil products must be at least 10 percent cannabidiol (CBD) and cannot contain more than 0.5 percent psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Currently, only patients who have been diagnosed with intractable epilepsy have access to medical cannabis in Texas. An estimated 500,000 Texans have epilepsy, but the law restricts medical cannabis use to the roughly 150,000 patients with the rarer intractable form of the condition.
To qualify for CBD medicine, intractable epilepsy patients must have tried at least two FDA-approved drugs and found them to be ineffective. Patients must also be permanent residents of Texas and receive approval from two of the doctors listed on the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas, which is overseen by the Texas Department of Safety.
The Track Record for Texas Medical Cannabis
After the CUA law was enacted in the summer of 2015, it would be three years before the Compassionate Use Program became operational and patients started to get their prescribed CBD medicine from licensed dispensaries. Regulations needed to be established and licenses approved for businesses before they could even start growing cannabis, which in itself takes months.
During this period of limbo, there were efforts to expand the CUA in the 2017 legislative session.
House Bill 2107 would have given patients with debilitating medical conditions, such as terminal cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) access to Texas medical cannabis. While the bill died at the end of the 2017 session without being scheduled for a vote, its co-sponsors, Republican Rep. Jason Isaac and Democratic Rep. Eddie Lucio III, pledged to medical cannabis activists that they would maintain their efforts: “In this time of divisive politics, we have found bipartisan agreement that the wellbeing of our loved ones suffering from debilitating conditions should rise over the fray of left and right. … We will continue to fight for the patients suffering in Texas who could benefit from medical cannabis.”
Now, with the opening of licensed dispensaries and patients receiving the benefits of CBD medicine, lawmakers have had a chance to see the program they created in action.
Activists are optimistic they will be able to lobby their representatives and senators in coming months with evidence of the program’s success to expand the CUA to more Texans, living with conditions such as PTSD, cancer, multiple sclerosis, autism and other forms of epilepsy.
Are you interested in reaching out to the decision-makers at the Capitol? Here are some resources:
A visual guide to how laws are passed in Texas
More info on Compassionate Cultivation’s blog: