Texas should expand medical marijuana
Texas technically legalized one form of medical marijuana in 2015, but the overly tight restrictions have created a Catch-22 that undermines the intent of the program: It’s so hard to access that few Texans are using it, only 572 in our large state. That doesn’t make much sense, and legislators should expand the Compassionate Use Act to make it worthy of its lofty name.
People suffering from only one ailment — intractable epilepsy — are eligible for treatment with cannabidiol, a medicinal oil made from marijuana that contains little of the THC compound that makes pot smokers high. Because of that narrow scope, only 45 doctors (mostly in big cities) have signed up to prescribe cannabidiol, and only three companies in Central Texas have been licensed to distribute it. One of them hasn’t even opened yet, and another reports it’s losing money.
The program was even put under the supervision of the Department of Safety, as if it’s a law enforcement problem, instead of the Department of State Health Services, which could oversee it as a medical specialty. The DPS licensed only three distributors — the minimum required by the law — out of more than 40 applicants.
With barriers like that, it’s not surprising that the concept exists more on paper than in reality. Even with intractable epilepsy alone, about 150,000 Texans could benefit from cannabidiol. And that doesn’t compare to the experiences in other states, where people suffering from a wide variety of ailments, ranging from glaucoma to multiple sclerosis to PTSD, have responded well to medical marijuana.
It can’t cure every health problem — no medicine or treatment will — but it has clearly helped large numbers of people. Some of those patients had tried all kinds of traditional medicines and were left sick and frustrated. People like that deserve a chance to see if medical marijuana will help them — like residents of 32 other states.
As state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who already filed a bill to expand the program to 20 other ailments, noted aptly, “This is not a liberal or conservative issue, this is a medical issue. Why do we as a Legislature get to think we know better than the doctors?”
The Legislature dipped its toe in these waters in 2015 and the world didn’t come to an end. Gov. Greg Abbott even signaled support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. In the 2019 session, lawmakers need to loosen the controls on medical marijuana so more of their constituents can be helped. It’s not the most important issue facing legislators in the new session, but it’s one that should be taken care of once and for all.