Originally Posted by By Bob Sechler at American-Statesman on April 25, 2017 here
Dr. Robert S. Marks says he routinely faces a dilemma when cancer patients and others dealing with chronic pain broach the topic of marijuana as a treatment option.
“You’re in a very tough position between what the law tells you to do, and what your (medical) oath tells you to do,” said Marks, who operates two pain management clinics in Austin.
“The truth of the matter is, you have a huge disconnect right now between what’s legal and what can actually help people” with fewer adverse side-effects than prescription opiates, he said.
Marks was among about two dozen advocates for so-called medical marijuana, including health-care professionals and patients, who gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday. They said they are hoping to jump-start momentum for two bills — Senate Bill 269 and House Bill 2107 — that would make the use of marijuana legal as a treatment for any doctor-corroborated debilitating health condition, such as cancer, chronic pain, autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The companion bills, filed more than two months ago, have languished in committees without being granted hearings as the clock ticks down on the current session of the state Legislature. SB 269 is in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, while HB 2107 is in the House Public Health Committee, chaired by state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo.
“Chairman Price, Chairman Schwertner, please schedule a hearing,” Keith Crook, a New Braunfels resident and military veteran, said during the event Tuesday. “Please take this first positive step to save lives.”
Crook and other participants said they have tried to contact Price and Schwertner but haven’t received responses. Neither Price nor Schwertner responded to requests for comment Tuesday.
Two years ago, Texas lawmakers approved what’s known as the Compassionate Use Act, legalizing oils made from cannabidiol for medical purposes. Cannabidiol, commonly called CBD, is found in marijuana plants but doesn’t produce euphoria or a high.
However, that law, which has yet to have any impact because the first Texas CBD dispensaries won’t be licensed until this summer, restricts the compound’s use only to certain patients suffering from a rare form of epilepsy, and only after they’ve first tried two conventional drugs that prove to be ineffective.
Advocates for medical marijuana said Tuesday that the Compassionate Use Act is so restrictive it’s useless for most people. They also said increased availability of medical marijuana is essential for Texans suffering from chronic pain and other debilitating health conditions, illustrating the point with their own wrenching personal stories and those of family members and friends.
Medical marijuana “is a life saver,” said Crook, who volunteers to help fellow veterans. “It is stopping people from putting guns in their mouths and pulling the triggers.”
As things stand, Marks said, he’s forced to deal with the issue the way he contends many doctors in Texas also do so — with the equivalent of a wink and a nod. He and other participants Tuesday said citizens shouldn’t have to risk prosecution and jail simply because they’re trying to bring some relief to themselves or their loved ones.
“I tell (patients), if you tell me you went to Colorado (where medical marijuana is legal), I’m not going to ask to see your plane ticket,” Marks said.
While HB 2107 and SB 269 have not moved out of committee, a related bill — House Bill 2200, sponsored by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin — was granted a hearing that took place late Monday night in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. The bill wouldn’t legalize medical marijuana, but it would allow people to cite a doctor’s recommendation as “an affirmative defense” against prosecution, and it would prevent police from investigating doctors who advise patients that “the potential benefits of the use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks” in certain circumstances.
“We are not giving anyone permission to use marijuana under this bill for medical purposes,” Hinojosa said during the committee hearing. “We are only saying we don’t believe criminal penalties are appropriate if one can prove that they possess marijuana for legitimate medical purposes.”
HB 2200 provides “individuals an opportunity to explain to a judge their situation, and gives the judge the ability to accept or reject their affirmative defense,” she said.
Participants in Tuesday’s event were supportive of the bill, which was left pending in the committee, although they said legalization of medical marijuana would lift the threat of prosecution entirely.