Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law on Monday that allows patients suffering from epilepsy to have access to “low-THC” cannabis oil. Although the governor was adamant that his pen would not legalize medical marijuana, his actions have set the state up to begin distributing a non-intoxicating derivative of the cannabis plant, commonly referred to as CBD oil, which has gained widespread notoriety in recent years with news coverage of a strain called Charlotte’s Web.
“There is currently no cure for intractable epilepsy and many patients have had little to no success with currently approved drugs,” Governor Abbott said in a statement. “However, we have seen promising results from CBD oil testing and with the passage of this legislation, there is now hope for thousands of families who deal with the effects of intractable epilepsy every day.”
The signing of this legislation, however, even stops short of providing real relief for those patients who qualify under its restrictive nature. According to the bill, the state will only grant permission for the use of CBD oil to those epilepsy patients who have been unsuccessful in reducing the frequency of their seizures with at least two different pharmaceutical drugs. Not only that, but the law requires patients who qualify under the initial guidelines to be given permission by two state-licensed physicians before they can be approved for the medication.
Marijuana activists not only believe that this hole-in-a-sheet approach to a statewide medical marijuana program comes with more than its fair share of unnecessary hurdles, but they fear the law will do nothing to help the patients for which it is intended. Several weeks ago, Heather Fazio, director of the Texas chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, told reporters that the bill was essentially worthless because its language only permits physicians to “prescribe” cannabis oil, which sets them up for prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act.
“Doctors may not ‘prescribe’ marijuana for medical use under federal law, though they can ‘recommend’ its use under the First Amendment,” according to Americans For Safe Access.
After the signing of the bill, Fazio said that while the state’s cannabis oil program will leave the majority of patients out in the cold, she hopes it will persuade the state legislature to carefully consider a more comprehensive approach to medical marijuana in the next couple of years.
However, even if this happens, Abbott, who took control of the governor’s mansion in 2015, claims he will not allow medical or recreational marijuana to pass as long as he is in office.
“I remain convinced that Texas should not legalize marijuana nor should Texas open the door for conventional marijuana to be used for medical or medicinal purposes,” Abbott said on Monday. “As governor I will not allow it.”
Texas is now the 15th state to legalize non-intoxicating cannabis oil. The Texas Department of Public Safety has been charged with overseeing the program’s regulatory affairs, which dictates that at least three CBD oil dispensaries be operational by September 2017.
Reports indicate the new CBD law could potentially help 150,000 Texans currently suffering from epilepsy, that is, as long as they can track down a couple of physicians willing to risk a federal prison term to write a prescription.
Residents of the Lone Star State are encouraged to get involved with their local marijuana advocacy groups (Marijuana Policy Project of Texas and Texas NORML are good places to start.) to find out more about what they can do to help set the stage for statewide marijuana reform in the coming years. It is also recommended that residents write to members of their state legislature to demand a more common-sense approach to the marijuana laws in Texas.