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Marijuana Policy Project

The Texas cannabis industry sure is optimistic

I remain more skeptical, at least of their short-term capacity.

“I suspect if you grabbed a random person on the street and asked them if cannabis was legal in Texas, they would probably look at you like you’re crazy and say ‘no,’” said Marcus Ruark, president of goodblend Texas, which is preparing [a site in San Marcos] for its 63,000-square-foot marijuana growing facility.

The notion that it’s “crazy” is because cannabis is still illegal in Texas, which is home to some of the strictest anti-marijuana laws in the nation. But a gradual expansion of the state’s limited medical marijuana program in recent years could soon give way to an industry that’s accessible to a broader swath of Texans.

While still relatively low, the number of Texans utilizing the state’s medicinal marijuana Compassionate Use Program has grown by 180 percent over the past year. Some estimate there are about 2 million Texas patients eligible to use cannabis, but many just don’t know about the program.

“So we’ve started making an investment in that and getting the word out and increasing awareness, and I think that’s definitely helping,” Ruark said.

For now, goodblend Texas is one of only three companies licensed to cultivate and sell marijuana in the state. The others are Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation and Fluent, which is a subsidiary of Cansortium, a publicly traded marijuana holdings company.

Statewide, just over 300 physicians are licensed to prescribe medical marijuana. And as of March, there were only 4,919 patients registered with the Compassionate Use Program, according to the Department of Public Safety. A year earlier, just 1,757 people were registered to use medical marijuana in Texas.

The number of medical marijuana patients in the state is “growing about 10 percent month over month every month, so it’s actually pretty robust growth for the patients who are accessing the program,” Ruark said.

While steadily increasing, the number of Texas patients pales in comparison to what’s seen in nearby states such as Oklahoma, where roughly 8 percent of the state’s population — over 300,000 people — are medical marijuana patients, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project. In Louisiana, which has a population less than one-fifth of that of Texas, there were 4,350 medical marijuana users at the end of 2019.

Still, the growth in numbers of Texas patients utilizing medical marijuana is prompting the $25 million investment by Parallel, the parent company of goodblend Texas, to build in San Marcos.

That’s a good growth rate, but one of the reasons why the growth rate is so high is because it’s starting from such a small base. If the number of patients registered with the Compassionate Use Program were to grow at an annual rate of 200% from the point given above, it would take almost three years to get to 100,000 patients. It will take more than that $25 million invested in a pot farm in San Marcos to make that happen, and they’re going to need bigger numbers than that to really make some money.

Even with the medical marijuana patient count already growing, a bill passed last month by the Texas House would massively expand the pool of patients eligible to use cannabis.

House Bill 1535 would allow patients suffering from chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer or other conditions approved by the state health department to be treated with medical cannabis. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth.

To become law, it still must clear the Senate and be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

It would be a small step toward changing Texas’ status as one of the most restrictive among the 47 states that allow medical marijuana programs. When the Compassionate Use Program was created by the Legislature in 2015, it initially allowed only patients with intractable epilepsy to be treated with marijuana.

In 2019, another bill allowed those with particular diseases, such as autism and incurable neurodegenerative disorders, or people with terminal cancer, to be eligible.

HB1535 was passed out of the House on April 29, and received by the Senate on May 3. I have no idea what fate awaits it in the Senate, but as we have discussed before, the Senate in general is more hostile to any loosening of existing marijuana laws, including medical marijuana, and Dan Patrick has given no signal that he intends to allow a bill like HB1535 to come to the floor, let alone pass. Yet every cycle we get this kind of blue-sky, if-only reporting, in the same way we get breathless stories about casino interests spending money to pursue the same doomed expansion they’ve been seeking for at least the last 20 years, and I just don’t get it. I say this as someone who would like to see full-on decriminalization – indeed, I want to make that a campaign issue – but also as someone who needs evidence to buy into the idea that Things Really Are Different This Time. Wishing and hoping and a pot farm in San Marcos will only get you so far.

Mayor Parker for pot reform

The list of people who think it’s time to talk about reforming our drug laws keeps growing.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Add Houston Mayor Annise Parker to the growing list of officials calling for a new approach to the nation’s drug laws, especially when it comes to marijuana.

She said as much during an interview this week with community public radio’s Dean Becker, for his Cultural Baggage Radio Show.

“I agree with you that we need a complete rethinking of the nation’s drug laws,” she told Becker, according to a transcript of the show. “We have seen over and over again that outright prohibition doesn’t work. We saw that in the 20’s when the prohibition in this country fueled the rise of organized crime.”

Becker, who broadcasts from KPFT in Houston, has made drug legalization his mission.

An audio clip of the interview is posted on this page.

The story links to this earlier Chron article about Becker’s pro-pot activities. We’ve discussed this before, and it’s worth reiterating that “reform” comes in a variety of flavors here, ranging from issuing citations for drug offenses rather than making arrests (something which has already been authorized by the Legislature but which is not in widespread practice in most Texas jurisdictions) to reducing the classification of offenses for possession of small amounts of pot to a Class C misdemeanor, to various rehab or community service alternatives to legalizing medical marijuana and finally to full-bore Colorado-and-Washington legalization. (As Hair Balls notes, the Marijuana Policy Project has a legislative agenda that includes three options like these.) Because of this, pot reform is not like same sex marriage, where you’re either all in or you’re in the way. There are plenty of places to honorably say “this is as far as I’m willing to go”, at least right now. It’s also hard to know what if anything might be doable in the 2015 Legislature, in part because it’s hard to say right now what the priorities of the leadership will be. That said, one does get a sense of inevitability for change, though the time frame is unknown, and given that one should not want to be the last person hopping aboard the bandwagon. The money people are now sniffing around the possibilities, and you know if anyone has influence with the Legislators, it’s the money people. Be that as it may, I’m glad to see Mayor Parker has arrived on this issue and is looking to be a part of the conversation about where we should be going.