Although the Texas Legislature lacked the guts in 2015 to pass a comprehensive medical marijuana program that would have allowed patients from across the board to have access to an effective treatment option, state lawmakers did manage to put their seal of approval on a piece of flimsy legislation designed to eventually allow those suffering from epilepsy to get their hands on low-THC cannabis oil.
However, the state’s toe-in-the-water approach to medical marijuana was flawed in the way the law was written, which history has shown will inevitably cripple the program before it ever gets out of the gate. Basically, before Governor Greg Abbott put his signature on the Compassionate Use Act, lawmakers failed to take into consideration that the language would force physicians across the state to break federal law by “prescribing” cannabis oil rather than offering recommendations.
And while this blunder in the law’s verbiage may sound like a small detail, it is actually kryptonite for those medical professionals not wishing to continue their career from inside a federal penitentiary. The Controlled Substances Act strictly prohibits doctors from prescribing marijuana for medical use, but they have the right to recommend the herb to patients in states where it is legal, under protections established by the First Amendment.
In 1991, Louisiana legalized medical marijuana, but not a single patient was ever able to utilize the program — not a single gram of weed was ever dispersed — simply because the law was written using the word “prescribe” rather suggesting some type of certification. It wasn’t until last year, when Governor Bobby Jindal authorized a new medical marijuana program that, after more than two decades, patients with a handful of qualified conditions could finally begin looking forward to prospect of using cannabis products.
Despite a similar scenario in Texas, a report from the San Antonio Express News indicates that state officials are currently working to put the regulatory framework in place for their still born program in an effort to begin issuing licenses to those under the illusion that selling cannabis in the Lone Star state will be a lucrative business move.
From now until May, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) will be scouring the land for cannabis producers and dispensaries brave enough to supply the state with low-THC pot products that have no chance of being ever being sold to a single patient. The DPS is expected to award the winning, or depending on how you look at it, the losing producer licenses sometime in June, with the first dispensary license expected to be granted a year later.
In states that have passed restrictive medical marijuana programs, where participating doctors are permitted to provide patient recommendations, we are seeing an industry that is being jammed up by the limits of the law, and in some cases dispensaries are being brought to the point of bankruptcy because there are not enough patients to sustain the marketplace. Both Illinois and New York are currently facing low patient enrollment, and many physicians are simply opting out of the game for fear that they might somehow trigger an unsavory visit by the DEA.
Therefore, it stands to reason that Texas is already standing neck deep in failure due to the legislature’s inability to pass a functional law. Unfortunately, the state legislature does not convene again until 2017, which leaves the law in the mud for at least the next year. But advocates remain hopeful that the Compassionate Use Act will be changed next year.
"We are optimistic that we'll be able to amend the language to correct this flaw in the law,” Heather Fazio with the Marijuana Policy Project told HIGH TIMES. "We worked hard to get the original bill amended, but the author was rather stubborn about it. She now understands that it's going to need to be changed, thanks to DPS making it clear during the rule-making process."