Looks like this will be the main marijuana-related action in the Legislature this session.
Two Texas lawmakers have filed bills that would allow epilepsy patients to use medicinal oils that contain a therapeutic component found in marijuana.
But some medical marijuana advocates are reluctant to support the proposed Texas Compassionate Use Act, calling it “appeasement legislation” that would do little to help Texans with epilepsy — and nothing for those with other diseases that can be treated with medical marijuana, such as cancer. Among those advocates is the family of Alexis Bortell, a 9-year-old Dallas-area girl with epilepsy.
“If these bills passed as they are written now, we will be forced to relocate” to Colorado, said Dean Bortell, whose daughter Alexis has become the face of the medical marijuana issue in Texas. “We are hoping they modify the bills in committee and that we can support them. The last thing we want to do is testify against them. But in their current form, we would have no choice.”
The twin proposals — House Bill 892 from Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, and Senate Bill 339 from Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler — would legalize oils containing CBD, a non-euphoric component found in marijuana known to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions. By 2018, the measure would allow the state to regulate and distribute these oils to epilepsy patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication. It would allow the oils to be ingested, but not smoked.
Texas is one of 16 states where marijuana is illegal for medical and recreational use. In recent years, 11 states have legalized CBD oil for certain medical conditions. Twenty-three other states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing broader medical marijuana use.
“I have been talking to a number of members that feel like this is a way to separate those that want to see the therapeutic benefits of the substance without the potential for abuse,” said Klick, who is a registered nurse. “As is, [these oils] have no street value and no psychoactive effect. If we bump that ratio up, I think we will lose support.”
Klick said there will also be a loss of political support if her bill is expanded to include other ailments, such as cancer, Crohn’s disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Critics of the proposed Texas Compassionate Use Act don’t think it goes far enough. They have concerns about the requirements the bill would put in place for patients, who would have to try two epilepsy medications at maximum dosage before trying CBD oils. In addition, they object to the bill’s requirement that a patient may not try medical marijuana unless no other FDA-approved treatments are available. Finally, critics don’t like how long the implementation of the measure would take, with the first dispensaries scheduled to be licensed by 2018.
“If you look at some other states with CBD-only legislation, you will see that bad laws can be worse than no laws at all,” said Shaun McAlister, the executive director of the Dallas-Forth Worth branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “We need immediate access to whole-plant marijuana, not appeasement legislation.”
His colleague Tracy Ansley added: “We don’t consider these medical marijuana bills. These are medical hemp bills.”
I don’t know enough about the medical science to have a sufficiently informed opinion about the merits of these bills. My general sympathies are with decriminalization, so as far as that goes I’d prefer to see something broader. This statement I got from Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) a couple of weeks ago when the bills were filed sounds about right to me:
RAMP has the utmost respect for Representative Klick’s and Senator Eltife’s advocacy for patients with epilepsy to have access to safe medical marijuana when no other treatment options provide relief. However, it is clear from experience in other states that CBD-only legislation has failed to generate the high-CBD strains that epileptic patients desperately need. The Texas Compassionate Use Act limits the market to such a degree that people will be unlikely to invest money and time into the extremely difficult practice of medical marijuana cultivation. Colorado, a state with whole plant access, has lead the nation in high-CBD marijuana strains while also helping patients who benefit from THC – such as those with cancer, muscular sclerosis, and PTSD. RAMP advocates a bill that allows the entire plant to be accessed as medicine for qualifying conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, and conditions causing seizures, severe pain, severe nausea, and muscle spasms.
If this is truly the best that can be done in the current environment, then I’d say it’s better than nothing and worth supporting, with the hope of building on it later. It would also put some of those predictions about when marijuana might be legalized in Texas into some perspective. We’ll see if this is all there is.