Creeper Pace for Texas Medical Marijuana Program

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It has been a long, slow ride for patients hoping to get access to cannabis in the Lone Star State—and then, just special strains of low-THC cannabis and only for those suffering from “intractable epilepsy.”

Three dispensaries are hoping to get final approval from Texas authorities to start cultivating next month. Of course, it will be several more months before they can actually begin distributing—and then ambiguities in the law may mean further delays.

Activists and lawmakers are pushing both to clear things up and expand the scope of the program.

In 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law the Texas Compassionate Use Act, legalizing the sale of CBD-rich strains with no more than 0.5 percent THC to epilepsy patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medications.

The Texas Tribune now reports that three eligible dispensaries—Surterra Texas, Cansortium Texas and Compassionate Cultivation—are waiting on final approval from the Texas Department of Public Safety to begin growing and distributing these specified strains. The department has until Sept. 1 to do so under the 2015 law.

The first issue is the extremely limited number of qualifying patients.

“We were very disappointed in how unreasonably restrictive the Compassionate Use Act was written,” Heather Fazio of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy told the Tribune. “We’re grateful it was intended for some people to have access to some type of cannabis, but science shows [medical marijuana] can help countless Texans suffering from PTSD, multiple sclerosis and severe pain.”

A bill just filed by State Senator José Menéndez would expand the applicable ailments to include post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, traumatic brain injuries and other “debilitating conditions.” 

But, as KCEN TV notes, there is pretty stiff resistance to its passage in the state house. A similar measure failed before this year’s legislative session ended in June, which means Menéndez would have to get a vote scheduled in a special session for his measure to have any hope of passage in 2017.

Then, there are the ambiguities in the Compassionate Use Act.

First, the text of the law states that cannabis will only be available with a doctor’s “prescription”—and physicians are barred by federal law from prescribing marijuana. Other states have finessed this dilemma by calling for a doctor’s “recommendation.” Whether due to an oversight or intentional sabotage, the Texas law has set up a Catch-22.

Then, there’s the question of how the cannabis is to be actually administered. The law does allow herbaceous cannabis—but explicitly prohibits smoking it. Nor does it make any reference to vaporization. Oils and extracts are mentioned, but patients who want to use the herbaceous form may be facing another Catch-22. A similar mess was created by the clumsy Florida law.

Meanwhile, an 11-year-old Texas girl who suffers from seizures and had to move to Colorado to get access to cannabis medications has filed a lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Department of Justice and the DEA. The suit seeks to force the federal government to reschedule cannabis and allow it to be prescribed by doctors.

“I just want kids like me to be able to do what normal kids are able to do,” said Alexis Bortell in a Skype interview with Dallas station WFAA from her new home in Denver, where she is being successfully treated with CBD oil.

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