Patients, Caregivers, and Medical Professionals Urge Texas Lawmakers to Allow Hearings on Critical Medical Marijuana Legislation *Photo of event below – Permission to publish granted; credit to Heather Fazio*
Supporters of HB 2107 and SB 269 call on Public Health Chairman Four Price and Health and Human Services Chairman Charles Schwertner to schedule hearings on the bills, which would fix the currently unworkable Texas Compassionate Use Program and make it more inclusive
AUSTIN, Texas — A group of patients, caregivers, and medical professionals gathered at the Texas State Capitol on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to allow hearings on critical medical marijuana legislation.
The group called on House Public Health Committee Chairman Four Price and Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Charles Schwertner to schedule hearings on HB 2107 and SB 269, respectively. The measures would fix the currently unworkable and unnecessarily restrictive Texas Compassionate Use Program and make it more inclusive.
Statement from Amanda Berard, a pediatric nurse and veteran with PTSD who resides in San Antonio:
“Since concluding my service to the U.S. Army, I’ve cared for and treated children with special needs, and I’ve seen what traditional medicines can do to their already struggling bodies and ability to develop cognitively. Children in other states are given an opportunity to thrive with the use of cannabis, which is often a safer and more effective medication.”
Statement from Amy Fawell, an Austin mother of a child with autism:
“My son lives with severe autism and traditional medications have simply not provided the kind of relief he needs to control his aggressive and self-injurious behavior. Medical cannabis is helping families in other states, and we’re desperate to see if it could help our sweet boy.”
Statement from Dr. Robert Marks, an Austin-based anesthesiology and pain management doctor:
“Patients in most states are allowed to access medical cannabis when their physicians feel it is medically indicated. If it were legal and accessible in Texas, many of my patients, such as those battling cancer, could benefit from this medicine.”
Statement from Cherie Rineker, a terminal cancer patient who resides in Lake Jackson:
“Opponents of this bill are trying to claim the moral high ground by saying they want to prevent drug abuse. There is no morality in keeping medicine from sick and dying patients who can benefit from medical cannabis.”
Patients, Caregivers, and Medical Professionals Gathering at Texas State Capitol TOMORROW to Urge Lawmakers to Allow Hearings on Critical Medical Marijuana Legislation
At 11:30 a.m. CT, supporters of HB 2107 and SB 269 will hold a news conference on the north steps of the capitol; they will call on Public Health Chairman Four Price and Health and Human Services Chairman Charles Schwertner to schedule hearings on the bills, which would fix the Texas Compassionate Use Program and make it more inclusive
AUSTIN, Texas — A group of patients, caregivers, and medical professionals will hold a news conference on the north steps of the Texas State Capitol on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. CT to urge lawmakers to allow hearings on critical medical marijuana legislation.
The group will call on House Public Health Committee Chairman Four Price and Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Charles Schwertner to schedule hearings on HB 2107 and SB 269, respectively.
HB 2107 and SB 269 would fix the currently unworkable and unnecessarily restrictive Texas Compassionate Use Program and make it more inclusive.
WHAT: News conference to call on Chairman Price and Chairman Schwertner to hold hearings on pending legislation that would fix Texas’s currently unworkable medical marijuana program and make it more inclusive
WHEN:Tuesday, April 25 at 11:30 a.m. CT
WHERE: North steps of the Texas State Capitol, 1100 Congress Avenue, Austin
WHO: Amanda Berard, nurse and veteran with PTSD
Keith Crook, registered nurse and military veteran
Amy Fawell, mother of a child with autism
Dr. Robert Marks, anesthesiology and pain management doctor
Cherie Rineker, terminal cancer patient
Additional patients, caregivers, and medical professionals
Originally posted by Jennifer Kendall at 9:31PM on April 10, 2017, here
Another city in Texas has approved a cite and release policy for people caught with small amounts of marijuana.
The Dallas City Council approved that new policy, Wednesday. Those caught with less than four ounces of marijuana will be cited and ordered to appear in court instead of arrested and taken to jail.
A bill in the Texas legislature could relax marijuana laws even further, decriminalizing small amounts of the drug.
House Bill 81 would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil penalty, basically a ticket, carrying a fine up to $250. It would not legalize any amount of the drug, however, anyone caught with a small amount of marijuana would not have the offense on their record.
Under the pink dome, fittingly in office number E1-420, Representative Joe Moody (D-El Paso) is fighting an uphill battle to pass a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“I think the people outside of this building are convinced that we need to change our law. The challenge that I have is changing minds inside the building,” Moody said.
The former prosecutor said, if the bill makes it to the House floor, many lawmakers might agree there are several benefits for offenders, law enforcement and taxpayers alike.
“It’s not an efficient use of our dollars. It’s not an efficient use of our law enforcement time and resources and we’re saddling what are mostly young offenders with collateral consequences that follow them for the rest of their lives,” said Moody.
The City of Austin currently employs a cite and release policy for less than two ounces of marijuana. Those caught with small amounts of weed are issued a citation in most cases and not arrested at the time. It is then up to the court to determine what penalties the offender will face.
“You’ve got to look at the benefices to the community and if you have folks that do have a small amount of this, it’s still seized, and we cut those people loose, because what ends up happening is we clog up the system with so many people being booked in for such a smaller amount,” said Lt. Robert Richman with Austin Police Department’s organized crime unit.
Dallas adopted a cite and release policy Wednesday and, since March, Houston has allowed first time offenders to take a class instead of facing time behind bars.
“Local governments understand that they are overburdening their jails, they are overburdening their law enforcement with these types of low level offenses, and they’re saying, ‘We’re not going to treat them the same anymore,’” Moody said.
The Austin Police Department said they are not finding as many large quantities of marijuana since a number of US states legalized the drug, at least not coming from the cartels or gangs. But they have had an increase in the number of possession charges for small amounts of pot.
Rep. Moody said the idea that decriminalizing the drug would increase use of it is simply false.
“That’s not born out by any other state that has done this. That is not a fact. That has not happened and, so to me, that’s a fairly easy argument to rebut in that we wouldn’t be the first state to engage in this type of law change,” said Moody.
HB 81 is currently in calendars. A similar bill introduced last legislative session never made it to either chamber for debate. Moody said he believes the vote could be close if the bill does reach the House floor.
Originally posted by Bob Sechler at 12:23pm, April 12, 2017, here
Hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana, has some fans among Texas farmers.
A number of them turned out Wednesday for a House committee hearing at the Capitol to support a bill defining so-called “industrial hemp” as legally distinct from marijuana. The bill, House Bill 3587, would allow hemp to be grown and marketed in Texas under a federal pilot program in which 31 other states are participating.
“There are thousands of uses for this crop,” testified Jeff Williams, a representative of Clayton Williams Farms & Ranches in far West Texas and the son of the one-time GOP gubernatorial candidate. “And Texas has really the best climate almost anywhere in the United States and other countries” to cultivate it.
Farmers and some university researchers who spoke Wednesday during the hearing before the House Committee on Agriculture & Livestock cited an abundance of uses for hemp. The plant — which has an extremely low level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the component of marijuana that produces a high — is a source of fiber for clothing and industrial parts, they said, and its seeds and oils have been used in health and food supplements.
Under existing laws, hemp-derived products can be imported into Texas and sold in the state, but the plant can’t be grown here. State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, who co-authored HB 3587, said he did so partly because of the inconsistency.
“It ought to be something that we ought to be able to grow in Texas,” Zedler said. “This will provide an economic boon to the state.”
Still, some members of the committee noted the close relationship between hemp and marijuana and questioned how advocates for hemp can overcome negative impressions about it.
“How do we get away from the perception that this is going to be abused in the way that marijuana is abused?” asked state Rep. Lynn Stuckey, R-Denton.
Laurance Armour, a south Texas rice farmer, said education is the key. He said allowing farmers to start cultivating hemp will help because the public will become more familiar with the crop and its benefits.
If legal, hemp would be an ideal crop in South Texas because of its low water requirements and tolerance for sandy soils, Armour said.
“Rice is going to go away” because of high water costs and other factors, he said. “Hemp could be the answer. Unfortunately, when everybody hears ‘hemp,’ they think it’s marijuana. It’s not the same crop.”
No action was taken on the bill after the hearing, and it remains pending in the committee.
House Bill 81, which would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, has gained some traction, winning approval from the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this month, although it has yet to be taken up by the full House for a vote.
Under the bill — co-authored by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso — law enforcement officers would write tickets in such cases instead of making arrests, and culprits would pay fines of up to $250, do community service or attend substance-abuse classes, but they wouldn’t suffer the permanent stigma of having a criminal record and they wouldn’t crowd local courts and jails. The bill defines a small amount of marijuana as an ounce or less.
Some other bills would legalize medical marijuana for any doctor-corroborated debilitating health condition, such as cancer, chronic pain, autism or post-traumatic stress disorder, although the bills have yet to be scheduled for committee hearings.
Originally posted by Ryan Allaway on April 6, 2017, here
Renowned medical marijuana research scientist Dr. Sue Sisley has pioneered research on the efficacy of medical cannabis as an effective treatment option for veterans suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In 2014, she secured a rare approval from the federal government to study the effects of marijuana on PTSD.
In 2015, Heliospectra AB (OTCQB: HLSPY) (FIRSTNORTH: HELIO), a world leader in intelligent lighting technology for greenhouse cultivation and plant research, hired Dr. Sue Sisley as its Director of Medical Plant Research. Dr. Sisley and Heliospectra are working with cannabis growers to develop scalable medicinal cultivation methodologies while overseeing data collection and reporting with the company’s medicinal cannabis growers in the U.S., Canada, and around the world.
Heliospectra has enabled Dr. Sisley to continue this groundbreaking research where she plans to publish all results – good or bad – to foster a better understanding of the plant and the transformative effect it can have on patients.
In this video series produced by CFN Media, Dr. Sisley outlines her research ambitions and the potential impact the studies could have on patients while highlighting why Heliospectra’s lighting solutions represent a key breakthrough in the cultivation of medical cannabis.
Heliospectra AB (OTCQB: HLSPY) (FIRSTNORTH: HELIO) was founded in 2006 and is the industry’s most proven intelligent lighting technology for greenhouse and controlled plant growth environments, with the vision to make commercial crop production more connected and resource-efficient. Growers and commercial producers across six continents use Heliospectra’s holistic and flexible solutions to consistently increase yields while producing crops that achieve quality appearance, superior nutritional or medicinal value and longer shelf life, harvest after harvest. Winner of multiple international awards and recognitions, Heliospectra has raised more than $32 million in capital to date.
In Texas, only a handful of people can legally use medical marijuana. So the vast majority who use it that way just keep quiet. One Richardson family with an autistic child has broken its silence.
The Zartlers hope Senate Bill 269 will pass in the state Legislature; it would change the medical marijuana law, so they’d no longer have to break it.
Kara Zartler, 17, has cerebral palsy and is autistic. She just got home from school, and she’s in the kitchen with Mom, dad, her daily caregiver and the family’s dogs.
Her mom talks with Kara.
“Kara, can you look? He wants to take your picture. Can you keep looking? Over here,” says Christy Zartler, who’s a pediatric nurse practitioner.
She says her daughter, who’s non-verbal, is having a good day.
“Look,” Zartler says. “She smiled at you. That’s so positive.”
It’s not always this way, says her father, Mark Zartler, a software engineer.
“She has self-injurious behaviors,” he says. “These have been a constant in her life since she was 4. She will hit herself repeatedly in the face and gets into a cycle and just can’t stop. That just goes on and on.”
Zartler’s behavior was captured in a home video and posted on Facebook and YouTube last month.
Warning: Video might be difficult to watch for some viewers.
The video shows Kara screaming as she’s strapped in a car seat. Then she’s in a living room rocking chair, rhythmically hitting herself with both fists on each side of her head.
Doctors say it’s how she responds to pain, likely from cerebral palsy.
It’s hard to know. It’s also hard to watch.
In the video, Mark Zartler puts a mask to Kara’s face and squeezes cannabis vapor from a plastic bag he’s filled. About three minutes later, Kara is calmer. She still rocks and grunts. But the episode is over, her mom says.
“It’s lessened. It doesn’t completely stop it,” Christy Zartler says. “But it slows her down. It slows her mind and her brain down to where she’s just more focused and aware.”
The Zartlers first took a chance on marijuana 10 years ago. They were going to the beach. For Kara, the car can be a screaming, biting nightmare. Then Mark Zartler remembered a neighbor who had given them a marijuana brownie for Kara, hoping it might help.
“In the car, there’s not really a way to get control of her arms because she’ll bite,” he explains. “She loves the beach but it’s hard to get to the beach. We were like, ‘well, why don’t we give her a little bit of brownie before we [have a] high-stress day, and we’ll see how it works out?’ And it worked out great.”
Cindy Roacha is Kara’s caregiver.
“It’s like a miracle,” she says. “I noticed that her parents would try everything. And she always had the issue where she would always hit herself for hours and hours. But once they experimented with different types of medicines, we noticed that this was the most effective.”
Every once in a while, you get an opportunity to really help people and I do believe this would help people.
‘Being the water for the fire’
It’s probably because of the THC in marijuana, Christian Bogner says. The Michigan doctor, who also has an autistic child, has researched cannabis for years. He says it helps reduce inflammation of the brain in some with autism.
“I would think of it more like it being the water for the fire,” Bogner says. “Now, imagine the autistic patient to have a headache with hallucinations and horrible emotions. This is the result of a complete dysregulation of neurotransmitters [that happens in their brains]. And we know that cannabis can help regulate these neurotransmitter dysregulations.”
Research backing Bogner has been limited. Because cannabis is an FDA Schedule I drug, like heroin or LSD, it’s hard to study, legally. By comparison, there’s more research on Schedule II drugs, such as cocaine, opium or fentanyl.
Kara’s sister Keeley is an identical twin, but doesn’t have autism.
CREDIT BILL ZEEBLE / KERA NEWS
Kara is neither the first nor only autistic patient who seems to benefit from cannabis. But she’s in Texas, where using it is illegal except for intractable epilepsy.
The Zartlers hope sharing their story will change that. Mark Zartler knows he’s taking a risk, so he keeps a small amount for Kara — only enough for a misdemeanor.
Approving medical marijuana
State Sen. José Menéndez, a San Antonio Democrat, wants to ease that pressure.
“It’s time that Texas step up to the plate and allow many of our sickest patients to have access to the medicine that they want and that their doctors feel they would benefit from,” Menendez says.
He says 28 other states and Washington D.C. have approved medical marijuana. That’s what his Senate Bill 269 would do. He’s tried this before. It’s a long shot.
“Every once in a while, you get an opportunity to really help people and I do believe this would help people,” Menéndez says.
A.J. Louderback isn’t so sure. He’s sheriff of Jackson County, midway between Galveston and Corpus Christi. He’s also the legislative director for the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas.
“I understand that many people are willing to try anything for the relief of the children,” Louderback says. “We’re not unpassionate about that at all. But in every state that’s become a recreational marijuana state, the first part is always the medical marijuana.”
Louderback asks: “Where’s the science?” There’s not enough to convince him. He worries sheriffs will be overwhelmed with recreational cannabis users claiming medical need. His group opposed a much narrower bill that passed two years ago, and will fight SB 269, which hasn’t yet made it out of committee.
A bill that would effectively decriminalize small-time pot possession in Texas cleared its first major legislative hurdle on Monday.
House Bill 81, which would replace arrest and jail time with a simple $250-max civil fine for anyone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana, passed the Texas House’s criminal jurisprudence committee on Monday with bipartisan support (two Republicans supported the bill and two opposed it, leading to a 4-2 vote). That means the measure is now winding its way toward the House floor for a full vote a whole month earlier than last session, when a similar bill cleared the committee too late in the game for it to matter.
As the Texas Observer first reported, a last-minute tweak by the bill’s author, El Paso Democrat Joe Moody, could make the bill more palatable for reluctant GOP lawmakers and further boost its chances this session. Under the latest version of the bill, judges can raise the civil fine to a Class C misdemeanor if the offender has already been cited for pot possession three or more times.
Heather Fazio, Texas political director with the Marijuana Policy Project, said the bill shouldn’t be seen as radical but rather a “moderate shift in how Texas manages low-level marijuana offenses” — one that’s in line with the majority of Texans who, according to polls, already support such measures.
“No one should be saddled with a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” Fazio said. “Texans overwhelmingly agree that the punishment for simple marijuana possession should be reduced to a simple fine.”
The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has approved the decriminalization of marijuana, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.I
n a move which would have been unthinkable just two years ago, the committee voted 4-2 to approve a measure by State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and send it to the full House.
“Making possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil issue instead of a crime,” Moody said. “Police won’t make arrests for it, they will just issue tickets, telling the offender when and where to show up at a Justice of the Peace court.”
Moody says the maximum fine for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana would be $250, and it would frequently be lowered if the person agrees to undergo substance abuse class. It would not give the person a criminal record, would not involve any jail time, and would not involve an arrest or probation.
“We have seen that the current policies are failing their communities and our families,” Heather Fazio of the Texas Marijuana Policy Project told News Radio 1200 WOAI. “We are seeing people from all across the political spectrum looking to find a sensible way forward.”
Fazio was particularly pleased with the fact that the vote in the committee for the measure was two Republicans and two Democrats.
Currently, even a first offense marijuana possession carries arrest, a criminal record, up to six months in jail, and ruinous fines of up to $2,000.
“No one should be saddled with a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” Fazio said.
She points out that there were 61,000 marijuana possession arrests in Texas in 2015 alone. She says more than two thirds of Texans support reducing the penalty for low level marijuana possession to a citation and small fine. Only 26% are opposed.
But one important vote against any sort of liberalization of Texas marijuana laws has historically been Gov. Greg Abbott. He warned when he was signing a bill passed in the 2015 Legislature to allow very narrow use of cannabis oil for certain seizure patients, that he didn’t think that the state’s marijuana laws should be further loosened.
But there is one big difference this year. Many law enforcement groups, which previously opposed marijuana decriminalization, now support it, with many officers saying they are tired of spending half their shift arresting 19 year olds for possessing a joint of marijuana, while serious crimes are occurring. Many pointed out that it frequently takes them four hours to arrest, process, and take to a magistrate a marijuana suspect.
Many law officers also see that eight states have completely legalized recreational use of marijuana, without negative side effects, and, in some cases, drug related crime rates have actually fallen.
There are several marijuana bills in the Legislature this session. They range from legalization of medicinal marijuana for PTSD sufferers to complete ‘Colorado style’ legalization.
The possibilities seem endless in a place as big as Texas—a state where you can you can buy guns and groceries in the same trip, or easily and legally purchase exotic animals.
Still, in all but one county, possession of two ounces or less of marijuana can result in a misdemeanor charge, up to 180 days in prison, or a fine of up to $2,000. Four or more ounces is a federal offense punishable by up to two years in prison. Could that soon change?
Police arrest an estimated 70,000 Texans annually for marijuana possession, usually in small amounts. But according to recent polls, 68 percent of Texans support reducing penalties for low-level marijuana possession.
Safe to say, it’s taken the legislators in the Lone Star State a little too long to catch up to public opinion. With the passage of new medical marijuana policy, however, the Texas legislature isn’t as far away from legalizing weed as it would seem.
In September 2017, the Texas Compassionate Use Act, Texas’s first small medical marijuana victory, is set to become viable law thanks to the exhaustive efforts of lobbying groups across the state.
The Compassionate Use Act allows patients with epilepsy access to low-THC marijuana and CBD oil, both of which have been proven to prevent seizures and replace other epilepsy drugs that come with nasty side effects. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the bill into law in June 2015, said it would provide “healing and hope for children,” although he reiterated that its signing does not open the door for recreational marijuana use in Texas.
Heather Fazio, the Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that despite Abbott’s show of support, the regulatory nature of this legislation does virtually nothing to help the very few patients that it claims to benefit.
“While the passage of this legislation was monumental in that the Texas legislature acknowledged cannabis as medicine, the existing program is unreasonably restrictive,” Fazio says.
According to the legislation, the state will only grant permission to patients who have “intractable epilepsy,” meaning they must have already exhausted two other prescription drug options with no success. Not only that, patients must also receive official prescriptions for cannabis from two state-licensed physicians before they can access treatment.
Medicinal cannabis has been proven to help adults and children by reducing seizure frequency regardless of whether their condition is “intractable” by the Texas definition. One study conducted this year showed a whopping 90 percent of epilepsy patients reported success using cannabis products rather than other seizure medication.
In the 28 other states where medical marijuana programs exist for patients, patients have to go through a formal process to be certified to use medical marijuana. Since it’s illegal under federal law to prescribe cannabis, patients can receive recommendations and certifications directly from a physician, enabling them to then seek out legal dispensaries. But under the Texas Compassionate Use, “recommendations” and “certifications” are not technically the same as a “prescription.”
For Fazio, the flawed language in the bill is perhaps the most problematic in that it doesn’t protect doctors. If the bill’s framing stays as it is now, Texas physicians are required to “prescribe” cannabis—which is both illegal and puts doctors in danger of losing their DEA registration.
“This is all legal semantics, and it’s kind of annoying,” Fazio says. “But it is important so that doctors have the confidence they need to move forward with getting their patients access to this medicine that can help them.”
Policy shifts in Texas tend to begin with smaller trial runs in pockets across the state alongside massive lobbying efforts, like those of Fazio and organizations like Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.
In recent years, Texas has had hints of tiny weed victories across the state—Houston’s Harris County, for instance, is currently the only county in the state that allows offenders caught with four ounces or less of the drug the option to take a $150 “cognitive decision” class rather than walk away with a misdemeanor charge on their record as part of new county legislation passed March 1.
In 2015, State Representative David Simpson (R-Longview) submitted HB 2165 in support of recreational marijuana use. A Tea Party-backed Republican, Simpson made a case for a traditionally liberal issue with a deeply conservative, unexpectedly religious backbone: weed, Simpson argued, was made by God. And a righteous God doesn’t make mistakes.
“I’m especially cautious when it comes to laws banning plants,” Simpson writes, “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix.”
As the Compassionate Use Act’s Sept. 1 implementation date approaches, the state is required to issue a minimum of three cannabis business licenses by the end of April. Until then, two companion bills, HB 2107 and SB 269, are in committee pushing for the expansion of both the language and scope of the Compassionate Use Act. If passed, the bills will allow patients to access the medicine they need without a hitch while assuring that Texas physicians are protected.
“It’s allowing them access to this medicine that can greatly improve their quality of life and decrease suffering,” Fazio says. “And ultimately, give them the medicine that can help them in lieu of the pharmaceutical drugs that for many have proven to be dangerous and addictive.”
AUSTIN(AP) – A bill that would make carrying small amounts of marijuana a civil penalty in Texas instead of a criminal one is advancing in the state House.
The House Criminal Jurisprudence committee on Monday approved a bill that would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana punishable by a fine of up to $250 instead of a criminal charge. A person also could not be arrested solely for possession of the small amount of pot.
A third violation would increase the fine to $500 as a Class C misdemeanor, though.
The bill now advances to the full House for consideration and its prospects are uncertain. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has previously warned the state won’t legalize marijuana for recreational or medicinal while he’s in office.