As he was signing a bill legalizing cannabis oil (CBD) for epilepsy patients on June 1st, Gov. Gregg Abbott said he still believes Texas should not legalize marijuana. Or, as he put it, open the door for conventional marijuana to be used–even for medicinal purposes. He says the bill that passed both houses, Rep. Kevin Eltife’s (R-Tyler) Senate Bill 339, does not leave that door open. After all, it’s not like Texas is turning into California or Colorado, right?
Some hope that’s exactly what this bill will usher in. “I hope that, at the bare minimum, we’re going to be able to get patients whole plant medicine,” says Jax Finkle, deputy director of the Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Finkle says her group is concerned with the actual wording of the bill.
“They use the word ‘prescribes’ and there was recently a legal decision that said that ‘recommends’ needs to be used,” she says. “All of the other states that are having functioning marijuana laws for medical marijuana use, they use the word recommends.”
The concern is that doctors in Texas could face sanctions or fines for prescribing something that is illegal at the federal level.
It’s one thing to be concerned about the wording of a piece of legislation. It’s another to worry about whether or not a bill can actually help those who need it. Rachel and John Eric Johnson are from Longview. They testified in support of a broader medical marijuana bill–House Bill 3875. Their son Lleyton is 6 years old and has an undiagnosed neurological disorder that causes him to have about twenty or more seizures a day. Lleyton is on five different seizure medications right now.
Lleyton’s mom and dad came to the Capitol to testify because they say they’re running out of things to try.
“Medical cannabis is a medicine that can help my son without having all the harmful side-effects. He deserves better than what he can get here in Texas right now. He deserves to have a medication that will make him seizure-free,” says Mrs. Johnson. “I know people say, ‘just move to Colorado and get it,’ but it is not that easy for every family that needs this medicine. Not everyone can just pack up and move. We are out of options.”
Lleyton’s parents pleaded to lawmakers to pass more comprehensive marijuana legislation to help their son. “Please don’t make us wait two more years for this bill to come back up.”
But it’s unclear whether cannabis oil would help people like Lleyton. Many patients need other components of marijuana to treat their symptoms, including THC–the psychoactive element in the plant. The bill that Gov. Abbott signed requires a twenty-to-one ratio of CBD to THC. So Texans with Crohn’s Disease, Lou Gehrig’s Disease and some cancers will likely not be able to treat their ailments with marijuana here.
Texas is now one of 14 states that have legalized the use of CBD oil, 23 other states and D.C. allow broader medical marijuana use, and it seems like Texas’ marijuana discussion is probably not over. Advocates say they expect more bills to see the light under the dome in 2017.