New medical marijuana law takes effect, expanding access for cancer patients, Texans with PTSD – Houston Public Media
Thousands more Texans can now be prescribed medical cannabis oil with low levels of THC, the ingredient that gets people high.
House Bill 1535, which went into effect Wednesday, extends the state’s compassionate use program to people with all types of cancer and those with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The law also doubled the THC limit allowed under the program from 0.5% to 1%. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the ingredient in marijuana that can produce a psychological effect.
This is another extension of the state’s medical cannabis law created in 2015. Yet the state’s program remains one of the the most restrictive in the country.
Although an overwhelming majority of Texans believe that marijuana should be legal in one form or another, the final call when it comes to determining who can access it rests with the elected leaders of the state.
And while HB 1535 increases THC levels and increases the number of people eligible for the program, lawmakers have once again chosen to take the program in small steps.
The bill that Fort Worth State Representative Stephanie Klick submitted in March called for cannabis oil to be available only to certain people with PTSD, especially veterans. But many of those who have testified on the bill at the Texas Capitol, including veterans, said eligibility should be extended to anyone facing the disease.
It was the same logic behind the movement to include all forms of cancer.
“You can argue that any form of cancer could be terminal, right? So that sounded like a very arbitrary descriptor,” said Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, a national organization seeking to legalize marijuana.
She said that people facing side effects from radiation therapy and chemotherapy shouldn’t have to wonder if their battle with cancer is severe enough to warrant medical relief from cannabis oil.
Although the increase in the amount of THC is minor, Finkel said, it will allow cannabis oil producers to better serve their patients.
When the bill was introduced, many were hoping that the THC limit would increase even more, to a maximum of 5%.
That would have increased the limit tenfold. Yet some of the Texans who testified that they already self-medicate with illegal marijuana said it was too weak.
House lawmakers agreed to the 5% THC limit, but the Senate reduced it to just 1%.
The House version also included additional medical conditions. One of the most talked about topics was anything that causes acute or chronic pain for which a doctor would otherwise prescribe opioids.
Several Texans have testified to their battles with opioids over the years and touted the benefits medical marijuana has brought to their lives. But the Senate eventually removed this provision.
“Texans support a strong and inclusive medical cannabis program that empowers physicians and patients to decide on their treatment and formulations,” said Finkel. “But when you look at the legislature, they’re only there every two years. So all the patients who aren’t included have to languish for two years.”
Despite the fact that about 85% of Texans believe marijuana should be legal, both medically and recreationally, lawmakers have chosen to move slowly. And the program will only grow as long as the legislature allows it.
“I think there are some easy things they can do the next session to put the power in the hands of doctors and patients,” Finkel said. “This allows the State Department of Health Services to authorize petitions, add new conditions, assess them and add them regularly. Allow them to manage the dosage, as it is the professionals of the health.”
It is not such a radical idea to allow the DSHS to assess and add medical conditions to the state’s medical marijuana registry. In fact, it was something that was included in the version of the bill that the House passed.
But the Senate ultimately decided to remove this provision as well.
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