The state of Texas has long seen itself on the front line of the so-called War on Drugs. But few know that back in 2015, the state enacted a Compassionate Use Act legalizing the use of medical marijuana. The bill has garnered so little attention because of its sluggish pace, giving the Department of Public Safety until September 1, 2017 to license just three dispensaries. That deadline came and went without the full approval of all dispensing organizations. Still, the first of the approved dispensaries is set to open in early December. So with medical cannabis right around the corner, here’s everything you need to know about Texas marijuana laws.
When Will Medical Cannabis Be Available To Patients In Texas
Texas has so far granted licenses to two medical marijuana dispensaries.
The first, Cansortium Texas, received its license to operate on the September 1 deadline. A second dispensing organization, Compassionate Cultivation, received its approval to operate on October 31 of this year.
A third organization received conditional approval in September and is still moving toward full licensure.
But how soon until those dispensaries are open for business depends on how quickly they can grow and process their product.
The first Texas dispensary, Knox Medical, is slated to open for business in early December in the small town of Schulenburg, Texas. However, patients won’t be able to purchase medical cannabis at the site.
Instead, the Schulenburg location, which lies midway between Houston, San Antonio and Austin, means Knox Medical will be able to begin deliveries to the three largest metro-areas next month.
However, restrictions on the products dispensaries can sell have drawn sharp criticism from medical marijuana advocates. They say the specifics of the Texas marijuana laws make it extremely difficult for patients to access effective medical cannabis.
Critics Of Texas Marijuana Laws Say The Program Could Serve Virtually No Patients
Although Texas enacted its Compassionate Use Act in 2015, the slow implementation of the bill and its limitations make it one of the most restrictive medical cannabis laws in the country.
One of the biggest restrictions has to do with the THC concentration in medical cannabis products. The bill specifies that dispensaries can only sell “low-THC cannabis.”
The Texas Occupations Code, Sec. 169.001 defines “low-THC cannabis” as a product that contains 0.5 percent by weight of THC. But the law also sets limits on cannabidiol, too. Products cannot contain more than 10 percent by weight of CBD.
And those limits don’t just apply to herbaceous cannabis. All Texas marijuana products, from oils to tinctures to topical preparations will have to weigh in under the THC and CBD limits set by the bill.
But federal law already allows hemp-derived products to contain 0.3 percent THC, which means Texans can already get similar medicine online.
Texas prohibits patients from cultivating plants at home. And smoking marijuana is also excluded from the state’s definition of “medical use.”
Furthermore, the Compassionate Use Act specifies just one qualifying condition. Patients must suffer from “intractable epilepsy” in order to qualify for medical marijuana. Adding more conditions will require legislative action.
But even for patients diagnosed with intractable epilepsy, the process of qualifying for the program is cumbersome. Patients must obtain recommendations from two qualified physicians.
A primary physician makes an initial recommendation based on the assessment that the “risk of medical use” is reasonable in light of potential benefits. Then, a second physician has to concur with the primary doctor’s determination.
Doctors And Business Owners Issue Formal Complaints About Texas Marijuana Laws
However, doctors are also raising concerns about the bill.
They’re concerned about the fact that Texas marijuana laws use the term “prescription” rather than “recommendation,” the term used in almost every other state medical cannabis program.
“Prescribing,” rather than “recommending,” medical cannabis could put doctors on the wrong side of the federal law, making many hesitant to participate in the state’s nascent program at all.
“Doctors cannot prescribe Schedule I substances,” said DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne. “If a medicine could be prescribed, it would not be Schedule I. Does that make sense?”
In other words, the feds don’t agree that a physician can prescribe cannabis without breaking the law.
For their part, business owners are also speaking out against the law, which they argue hamstrings their ability to produce effective medicine. On August 16, the Texas Cannabis Industry Association sent formal letters of complaint to the DPS and Governor Abbott.
The letters, co-signed by 10 of the 43 companies which applied for licenses, claim that the Texas DPS has implemented the Compassionate Use Act so poorly that it actually broke a law that requires state agencies to act in good faith.
The sum of all of these complaints suggests that Texas marijuana laws are so restrictive and incomplete that the program could fail before it even gets off the ground.