Frank Snyder: A single word in bill could neutralize Texas’ medical marijuana efforts

In writing legislation, choosing the right language is important.

Professor Franklin Snyder, A&M School of Law
Professor Franklin Snyder, A&M School of Law

That is true at the federal level, where the future of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is in now serious doubt before the Supreme Court because it is not clear what Congress meant by a single four-word phrase in one section of a 2,700-page bill.

It’s equally true in Texas, where a much-needed and widely supported bill now moving through the Legislature will fail to do what the legislators who support it hope it will do, because it unwittingly uses a single inappropriate term in several critical places. The Texas legislators backing the new Texas Compassionate-Use Act, though, have a big advantage over Obamacare supporters now arguing their case before the nation’s highest court: they still have time to fix the problem before it becomes law.

The Compassionate-Use Act (SB 339) allows patients with intractable epilepsy to obtain “low-THC” marijuana if a Texas physician who specializes in the area and who has exhausted other treatment options recommends use. Low-THC marijuana contains compounds that provide significant medical benefits, but does not contain significant amounts of THC, the chemical in weed that gets you stoned. It’s like wine that does not contain alcohol. Not even a toddler can get high on low-THC marijuana, while the substance provides many of the legitimate medical benefits found in the cannabis plant. It is safe enough that it is routinely recommended for children in many U.S. states.

The act has wide and bipartisan support in the Texas Legislature. The sponsors, Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) and Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler), along with the legislators who support them, clearly want to bring a safe and much-needed product to a group of people — many of them children — who desperately need their help. But a review of federal laws and the experience of other states make it very clear that unless the language is changed, the act will not accomplish what the legislators intend.

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