Texas has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs in the country, according experts who track marijuana laws. But some lawmakers from both parties are ready to change that.
In 2015, the legislature passed into law the Texas Compassionate Use Program, or TCUP. It allows doctors to prescribe marijuana-derived CBD oil for one condition, intractable epilepsy.
But challenges exist with the law: There are only three state-licensed dispensaries, and patients have to secure the recommendations from two neurologists. They also have to demonstrate that five traditional epileptic medications didn’t work.
State Sen. Jose Menendez, a San Antonio Democrat, filed a bill this session that would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana that contain higher percentages of THC, a psychoactive component of the plant. Also, it would also allow patients on the state’s registry to grow a few marijuana plants in their home.
“We shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers when comes to illnesses," he said. "Every person, whether it’s MS, whether it’s cancer, whether it’s Lou Gehrig's, whether it’s Parkinson’s — whatever the condition their doctor thinks cannabis-based therapy could help — that doctor and that patient should make that decision, not elected officials in Austin, Texas."
Air Force veteran Keith Crook likes the idea of a doctor having the freedom to recommend the use of medical marijuana for a number of conditions, including his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which stems from his two tours in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. He endured insomnia and nightmares for years, and he even considered suicide.
“My intent was to get my kid up through adulthood and then find a nice tropical beach to drink myself to death on,” Crook said.
Crook admitted he currently illegally uses marijuana to treat his condition.
Thalia Seggelink lives in Dripping Springs and is with Mom’s Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism, or MAMMA. She said before discovering CBD, life with her son Lance was pretty challenging. She couldn’t predict her son’s public outbursts, which often lead to him hitting another child or simply running away.
“I remember in 2012 I was so depressed and fairly suicidal. I couldn’t imagine a future for Lance. He was incredibly aggressive,” Seggelink said.
Seggelink said she can get behind legislation that approaches marijuana as a medicine and makes it available for more conditions.
For example, bills from Democrats, Austin State Sen. Kirk Watson and Brownsville State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, add autism as a qualifying condition and increase the allowable amount of THC in each dose.
Fort Worth State Rep. Stephanie Klick, a Republican, authored the original bill that set up the Texas Compassionate Use Program. Her bill this session authorizes the use of marijuana for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and muscle spasticity and for palliative care.
C.J. Jakel, a mom in Lockhart, said having more medical professionals understand how to best use CBD oil and medical marijuana is essential as Texas laws evolve.
She rememberied how her son Callen experienced up to 75 seizures every day.
“It was a lot. He would basically wake up, have a cluster of seizures, fall back asleep, wake up, have a cluster of seizures, fall back asleep,” Jakel said.
He was added to the state’s registry in the summer of 2018, authorizing her to use CBD oil to treat him. Now, she said, he lives a seizure-free life.
But Jakel recalled it wasn't easy at first. She recalls how the nurses at Callen's school weren't comfortable administering the CBD oil treatment.
Kyle Dijon Hill, a CBD oil expert attending St. Martinus University School of Medicine, said she's noticed many of her colleagues and professors don't know enough about how marijuana can be used as a medicine. She thinks they may fear backlash from their peers and supervisors if they embrace the idea.
“And what I am finding is A) aren’t really educated in that area and B) that they have a strong fear from the medical community, whether it’s their peers or governing medical boards,” Hill said.
TCUP's restrictions don't make Texas unique in the national context. Dwight Clark is a policy analyst with the Denver law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC, which studies marijuana laws throughout the country.
“Texas has an incredible restrictive law, but there are other states like Georgia that have low-THC oil for epileptic patients but the door is opening wide here in Texas,” Clark said.
But Clark said it’s not as restrictive as Kansas, which only allows forms of CBD that are hemp oil-based, and that oil cannot contain any trace of THC. In Texas, the allowable amount of THC for CBD oil is .5 percent. Klick’s bill would raise that to 1 percent.
The group of bills to expand the state’s medical marijuana program have yet to have a hearing but will have to navigate the usual legislative process through the Texas House and Senate if they are to make it to the governor before the last day of the session, May 27. But those efforts are competing with issues like school fiance property tax reform and Harvey aid.