Friday March 2, 2018
By Andrew Ward
Texas’ medicinal marijuana program began sales in early February, three years after signing its bill into law. Despite the banner achievement for medical cannabis in Texas, the program faces steep challenges. Texas regulations require that all cannabis must maintain high counts of CBD and low THC and access to doctors and dispensaries is extremely limited. The list of qualifying conditions covers just one ailment and comes with extra steps involved, making access difficult for patients in need.
Although it is already clear the bill will need future improvements, Texas’ rollout of a dispensing program marks a significant leap for progress in the south.
The state's first cannabis harvest came in the middle of January, courtesy of Compassionate Cultivation, based a few miles outside of Austin. Crops from Cansortium Texas and Surterra Texas round out the approved providers of medical cannabis for the state so far.
The market appears excited yet underserved. For now, some Texans can celebrate having access to medicine that they and loved ones have been in long need. Meanwhile, many others wait – especially those with PTSD or other ailments that are commonly treated with medical marijuana.
The State of Texas’ Medical Marijuana Market
In 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed the state's Compassionate Use Act into law allowing qualifying patients safe access to low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Despite the signing of the bill, legalization for medical use did not go into effect right away. Even with cannabis oil legalized, patients had to wait for Texas to begin legal sales or chance smuggling it in from another legalized state. The latter placed the individual at risk for federal prosecution.
Under Texas rules, a short list of patients qualified for the program. In fact, only patients with intractable epilepsy are currently qualified and can only use low-THC and high-CBD oil as treatment.
Going one step further, those patients must also prove that federally approved medication has not worked for them so far. These requirements have allowed for just 150,000 Texans to qualify for the program.
Other common qualifying conditions excluded from this list have created problems in the Lone Star State. That includes a span of conditions that afflict the state’s veteran community. Last February, a group of veterans and 1,400 other signatures for their inclusion onto the state’s program was not acknowledged by Governor Abbott at the time.
Shortcomings of the Texas Compassionate Use Act
Woes for the program continue past a short list of qualified conditions. As of February 11, 2018, the state's website lists only 18 approved doctors, leaving large portions of Texans in a medical marijuana desert. The lack of access becomes a larger problem as state law requires patients with intractable epilepsy to have recommendations from two of the state approved doctors.
Depending on the location of a potential patient, this stipulation could take them far from home in multiple directions to gain access to medical cannabis.
To make matters worse, only three dispensing organizations are licensed to serve the entire state. The lack of licensed operations creates a second medical marijuana desert for the western half of the state. These locations are home to rapidly growing communities along the Mexican border and are now cut off from medicinal coverage.
Restrictive access extends further down the supply chain as well. Cultivators felt the pinch from state rules, which included a licensing fee that is 80 times higher than the original recommendation. Other troubling signs included a proposed fee that reached as high as $1.3 million to help cover industry-associated state trooper costs.
The cherry on Texas’ ambivalent medical marijuana sundae has to be the pushback from state law enforcement. It remains in opposition to the sale of seeds and questions the benefits of cannabis oil on epilepsy patients.
The Future of Cannabis is Still Bright for Texas
In all, Texas’ medical marijuana program remains in its infancy, despite existing in some form for the past three years. The fact that any patients get to receive treatment is a celebratory milestone for the south.
That being said, Texans deserve better coverage across the state and deserve expanded access to care. Unfortunately, progress might be delayed for some time due to a government opposition and large swaths of conservatives in the state. However, some lawmakers are pushing for expansions to the program.
With pressure coming from advocacy groups and protesters, changes could come sooner than later. That is all speculation, however. Local news and lawmakers are asking questions about expansion already.
What could happen from here is uncertain. Other restrictive medical program states are exploring expanding their programs though, namely New York. Texas could join that list if the sentiment shifts that way. Be sure to check back frequently for cannabis new surrounding Texas.
Do you want to see more cannabis reform in Texas and the south? Comment your thoughts below!