There’s A Useless Medical Marijuana Bill Sitting on Greg Abbott’s Desk

Dallas Observer | May 20, 2015

First, the good news that really isn’t good news at all, but whatever. As of late Monday afternoon’s 96-34 Texas House vote, both chambers of the Legislature have passed medical marijuana reform legalization. Texans who suffer from intractable epilepsy and are able to get their hands on low-THC cannabidiol oil will not be prosecuted.

As has been said over and over again by advocates for medical marijuana, legalizing cannabidiol oil, especially the low-THC version allowed by the Texas bill, is not enough. Treatment is not available to all the people who could be helped, and keeping THC content to 5 percent or lower takes options away from doctors. (THC is the chemical in marijuana that gets you high.)

“Texas claims to hate Obamacare as a government and yet we’re about to pass our own version of Obamacare where the government mandates not only the medicine, but the dosing,” Dean Bortell, the father of Alexis Bortell, a 9-year-old girl with intractable epilepsy said in February. “We need to leave the dosing decision up to the doctors. They can stay [with] oils. We’re not saying they have to allow plants and smoking, not at all, we’re not saying that at all. The bill can be saved with oils, but leave the dosing to the professionals.”

Alexis Bortell, who’s become one of the faces of medical marijuana reform in Texas, moved to Colorado in February after a particularly vicious seizure. Since being able to start medical marijuana treatment — she takes cannabidiol oil that has high THC content — her seizures have been reduced from about one a day to about one a month. The medicine she takes will still be illegal in Texas, even if Governor Abbott signs the passed bill into law.

There’s an even bigger problem with the bill beyond all that, though. As passed, the bill requires doctors to prescribe the cannabidiol oil to patients. That’s against federal law. In the 23 states where some form of medical marijuana is legal, doctors are allowed to recommend marijuana therapy or certify that a person is eligible.

“Nearly half of the states in the country have effectively implemented medical marijuana programs, and I have no doubt Texas could adopt an even better one,” Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project said. “We need a law that ensures seriously ill patients who could benefit from medical marijuana are able to access it. There is no reason to put it off any longer.”

Still, Fazio and her organization want Abbott to sign the bill, despite the fact that “[n]ot a single patient will be helped by [the] legislation.”

“Even if doctors are unwilling to ‘prescribe’ marijuana, starting the implementation process will ensure a system of safe access is ready to go when the Legislature meets in 2017 — at which point it can fix the flaw and expand access to patients with other serious conditions,” Fazio said.