Timeline For Texas' Cannabis Oil Law Leads To Medical Refugees | Texas Public Radio

Timeline For Texas' Cannabis Oil Law Leads To Medical Refugees

Aug 24, 2016

The Department of Public Safety is meeting Thursday to go over the latest set of rules connected with Texas’ limited medical marijuana law.  The timeline for implementing the law is on schedule, but that schedule is two years after the law took effect and that has dozens of Texas families uprooting their lives to move to states where medical marijuana is legal and available.

Former Austin Corrections Officer Glen Mays hopelessly clutches his 5-year-old son as his wife records one of young Orion’s many seizures on her cell phone.

Glen Mays and his son Orion
Credit Ryan Poppe

Orion was diagnosed with epilepsy shortly after he was born.  He was given prescription medication but they did not control his seizures which rendered him exhausted and unconscious.  It was not uncommon for Orion to have eight seizures in a 24-hour period.

“It’s just in those times you don’t know, you watch him sleep, I’ve stayed awake so many nights watching him sleep,” says father, Glen.

The Mays are among thousands of families who are waiting for the availability of low-THC marijuana oil that’s proven effective in treating seizures.  The Texas legislature approved its use in 2015.  But the implementation of the new law will take two years to complete. 

Glen Mays says that has left his family with some difficult choices:  wait and watch his son continue to suffer or leave Texas for a state where the treatment is already available.  

“I wanted to try some cannabis oil, I got a hold of some cannabis oil, I tried it on my son, it worked, we almost went 30 days without any seizures,” Mays explains.

Mays says that when his illegal supply ran out, it hit him, he could lose everything as a corrections officer, husband and dad if he was caught with the drug in Texas.   

Uhaul truck outside the Mays home.
Credit Ryan Poppe

“And when I ran out I said, we need to move to Colorado ASAP, because I’m taking a huge risk and I don’t want to go to jail for giving my son medication,” Mays says.

So Mays quit his job, sent his wife and Orion to Colorado and began packing up their South Austin home.

Mays is a native Texan, but says he won’t  consider moving his family back until state lawmakers pass a full medical marijuana bill that allows his son access to all elements of the plant.  He says just using CBD oil isn’t as effective.

Heather Fazio is the Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which helped pass the 2015 law allowing for the use of CBD oil in Texas, an element of the plant that doesn’t get you “high.”  Fazio says the Department of Public Safety is working to license marijuana growers and to set up an online registry for patients and physicians, but she says going from the prohibition of a substance to regulating it takes time. 

“The Department of Public Safety for decades has only known to arrest people for cannabis and now what they are looking to do is to establish a licensing scheme for the business side of it, however it is disappointing that people are having to wait so long for patients to get access to this medicine, not to mention all of the patients getting left behind because the program is so restrictive,” Fazio says.

Fazio and the Marijuana Policy Project are now joining forces with some lawmakers including state Sen. Jose Menendez from San Antonio.  Menendez plans to file legislation before next year’s session that would increase the parts of the marijuana plant that can be dispensed as medication.  Menendez also wants to make medical marijuana products legally available to more patients.

“If we are compassionate about kids with epilepsy as we should be, then we should be compassionate about people with cancer and cataracts and glaucoma and veterans that are being put on all sorts of opioids when they don’t want to be, but many of them will say, in confidence, that they feel that they are being made to be criminals by looking for a better way to treat their problem,” Menendez explains.

Officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety say they are close to contracting with a tech company that will create the online registry of doctors, patients and approved dispensaries for the low-THC cannabis oil.

But it will be a long wait for patients like Orion suffering from seizures, the cannabis oil treatment  probably won’t be available to patients in Texas until after the summer of 2017.