Inside a hydroponic marijuana grow operation in South Texas. Photo by Scott Ball.
As alcohol usage among teens between 18-22 declines, the use of marijuana in the age group is on the rise.

Texas Legislature Passed the Texas Compassionate-Use Act on May 18, which legalizes the prescription of cannabidiol (CBD) for those with extreme forms of epilepsy. While it is the first time Texas signaled less than an absolute rejection of medical marijuana, the cannabis oil it legalizes is restricted to a fraction of patients and can only have trace amounts of THC, which is the compound that gets users high.

The bill passed with overwhelming support in both the Republican controlled House (96-34) and Senate (26-5) and now awaits Governor Greg Abbot’s veto or signature. Without a veto, Texas will become the 14th state in the country to legalize the prescription of CBD, while 23 other states have legalized medical marijuana in general. In the legislature, it was accompanied by a host of other marijuana legislation including decriminalization and full legalization, which failed to pass.

Governor Greg Abbot has withheld comments on medical marijuana in the past, but with Republican cover from both houses of the legislature, professional recommendations from pediatricians, and a general state-wide trend of increasing acceptance, he seems unlikely to veto the first marijuana bill offered to him.

In order for patients to get a prescription, they must have unsuccessfully tried at least two other epilepsy medications and get the approval of two physicians. Multiple doctors testified on behalf of the bill, though many argue that the bill doesn’t go far enough.

Those medical professionals argue that THC is the active ingredient that makes the largest difference in the effectiveness of treatment. Many patients feel the same way. Alexis Bortell moved to Colorado from Texas after a particularly severe seizure convinced her parents that if they didn’t seek new treatments, she could die. Once moving to Colorado, her seizures stopped occurring daily. Her parents attribute her turnaround to 15:1 CBD to THC treatment regime.

Alexis Bortell has an extreme form of epilepsy that has improved under a CBD and THC treatment regimen in Colorado. Photo courtesy of Team Alexis Facebook page.
Alexis Bortell has an extreme form of epilepsy that has improved under a CBD and THC treatment regimen in Colorado. Photo courtesy of Team Alexis Facebook page.

Her parents have said that until that treatment which includes THC is legal in Texas, they won’t be moving back. Referring to the bill, her Team Alexis Facebook page says that “We have yet to meet a single refugee this will bring home to Texas.”

Another problem involves the legal language of SB 339, which legalizes the “prescription” of marijuana to patients, rather than the “recommendation” or “certification” that the other states that have legalized CBD allow for. Unlike prescriptions, recommendations and certifications are federally legal under the First Amendment.

Given those obstacles, advocates like Heather Fazio, who is Texas political director the Marijuana Policy Project, are disappointed.

“Lawmakers missed several opportunities to amend the bill in ways that could have provided real relief to countless Texans. Not a single patient will be helped by this legislation,” Fazio said.

Many others are more optimistic about the bill’s effects. M. Scott Perry, a pediatric neurologist at Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth, testified in favor of the bill. He called studies that showed dramatic improvements in epilepsy cases with CBD treatment alone “very encouraging.”

Any legal language flaws are also unlikely to result in prosecution, given the host of federal marijuana laws on the books that the Obama administration and Congress have agreed not to enforce in states where pot is legal. Last week the senate quietly approved a bill that gave veterans the right to medical marijuana treatment in marijuana friendly states. Federal indictments of pediatricians who prescribe state-sanctioned medicine seem likely.

Even if no patients are helped by the new treatment, though, the state must now make preparations that will likely be relevant for broader medical marijuana policies later. If the bill escapes Abbot’s veto, the Department of Public Safety will begin the process of approving and regulating the first medical marijuana dispensaries and prescriptions. That legal framework will come in handy if any more legislation passes in 2017 or beyond.

Based on the other marijuana proposals and support this year, Texas medical marijuana in 2017 isn’t a pipe dream. The legislature entertained bills on researching marijuana for the treatment of PTSD, hemp production, and penalty reductions for possession. Even more noteworthy, a bill for the full legalization of the drug surprised the state by getting through its initial house committee.

HB 2165, the full legalization bill, was proposed by Tea Party republican David Simpson from Longview. His far right reasons may be the key to successful legalization in Texas. He opposes bureaucracy, has faith in the free market, and considers his religion.

David Simpson is a Tea Party conservative advocating the legalization of marijuana in the Texas House. Photo courtesy of Twitter.
David Simpson is a Tea Party conservative advocating the legalization of marijuana in the Texas House. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

While the medical benefits have to be accessible to those who need them, he said, “I don’t want to create a bureaucracy-expanding license and registration… Conservatives are opposed to federal intrusion on health care, and this would be a state intrusion.

“Because even if it’s decriminalized or just medicinal, it may be coming from criminals and impure or diluted. If we give it to a free market we’ll know where it’s coming from, and if it has a good reputation. And we’ll let the market take care of it. We don’t need government to regulate a plant.

“Timothy 4:4 says, ‘everything God created is good, and nothing can be refused if it can be received for Thanksgiving.’ Now that doesn’t mean everyone should use it, it doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Rattlesnakes are dangerous, but we eat ’em for meat,” he said.

Simpson admits he wouldn’t have proposed the bill just two years ago, but that state-wide sentiment is shifting with national trends. This has been the most successful legislative session for marijuana in Texas ever, and the Compassionate-Use Act may be the first legal step forward in the process of medical and recreational marijuana legalization.

*Featured/top image: Inside a hydroponic marijuana grow operation in South Texas. Photo by Scott Ball.

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Mitch Hagney

Mitch Hagney is a writer and hydroponic farmer in downtown San Antonio. Hagney is CEO of LocalSprout and president of the Food Policy Council of San Antonio.