The Texas Compassionate Use Act was signed into law on June 1, 2015, by Governor Greg Abbott. However, it appears the state might not implement the medical marijuana program it passed and could walk away from millions in potential tax revenues.
One of the major obstacles to establishing the program in Texas is that the state law requires doctors to write a prescription for the medical marijuana. Since marijuana is still federally illegal and a controlled substance, doctors can’t legally write a prescription for it. In addition, a prescription must be filled by a pharmacy, not a dispensary. Doctors are protected if they recommend medical marijuana, not prescribe it. The law would have to be amended and in this current climate they may not be able to get that done. “We’re concerned it’s not ever get off the ground, if we’re not able to change that language in the law,” said Heather Fazio of Texans for Responsible Marijuana.
Another problem with the program is the severely limited patient population. Intractable epilepsy is the only approved disease in the Texas program, leaving cancer patients, pain sufferers and veterans with post traumatic stress disorder unable to legally get the medicine. A bill has been introduced in both the Texas House and Senate to expand the patient population. Greenwave Advisors Matt Karnes said that if Texas included the typical qualifying conditions that other states have designated – there would be a patient population of 1.9 million.
Karnes said, assuming commercial availability by 2019 with an expanded set of patients, medical marijuana sales in Texas could reach $600 million by 2021. That’s roughly half of Colorado’s market, where the state is currently reaping $200 million on total recreational and medicinal marijuana sales of $1.3 billion. However, Karnes noted that if Texas went so far as to legalize recreational marijuana, it would rival Colorado. “A recreational market, assuming implementation in 2019 would reach approximately $1.2 billion and hit approximately $1.7 billion in 2021,” said Karnes. He based his calculations on what has been observed in existing legal markets. If Texas were able to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana by 2019, Karnes believes the market would total $1.4 billion and by 2021 $2.3 billion.
The Texas law only legalizes a low-THC cannabis with the cannabidiol compound equaling 10%, with the THC portion no higher that 0.5%. The state has until September 2017 to issue at least three licenses. There has been bipartisan support to expand the list of approved diseases, but the governor is very much against any type of legalized marijuana. Seventy-five percent of Texans favor marijuana law reform, according to a 2015 Texas Lyceum poll. Last week a group of military veterans delivered a petition signed by 1,400 vets requesting an in-person meeting to advocate for a more inclusive program.
Separately, the state is grappling with a contradiction in its approaches to marijuana. District Attorney Kim Ogg of Harris County, which includes Houston, said that as of March 1, she would no longer arrest or prosecute most marijuana cases. Instead people found in possession of marijuana will be diverted to a four-hour class. “We have spent in excess of $250 million, over a quarter-billion dollars, prosecuting a crime that has produced no tangible evidence of improved public safety,” she said. “We have disqualified, unnecessarily, thousands of people from greater job, housing and educational opportunities by giving them a criminal record for what is, in effect, a minor law violation.”
The state’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick criticized the move, while at the same time a new bill was introduced that would decrease penalties for possession of an ounce of marijuana resulting in a ticket not to exceed $250. “We definitely face a challenge with the governor,” said Fazio. “Even though he signed the bill, he has still said he was still convinced that we shouldn’t open up the door to broader use of marijuana even medicinally.” Fazio does think that if the conservative politicians are willing to pass legislation expanding medical marijuana, she doesn’t think Abbott will stand in the way.
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