Category Archives: News

Texas Action: Ask Gov. Abbott to add medical cannabis to the special session!

Compassion should be inclusive. Contact the governor now!

During Texas’ regular legislative session this spring, more than half of the Texas House signed onto a bill that would make the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive. Unfortunately, that bill was beat by the clock and was not given a vote. There’s a special session underway now, giving us another chance to bring patients safe and legal access to medical cannabis!
Only Gov. Abbott can add an item to the list of issues legislators can consider during the special session. Contact him now!
Texas’ existing law only applies to patients with intractable seizures. Let the governor know: Patients with other debilitating conditions deserve protection, too.
Many of the issues being debated by legislators are contentious and causing heated debate along partisan lines. Unlike those issues, the matter of medical cannabis has earned bi-partisan support.
Take action today by contacting Gov. Abbott and your legislators; ask them to add this important issue to the special session for consideration. It’ll be tough to convince the governor to add anything relating to cannabis to the special session, so we need to create a groundswell of support. After you take action, please spread the word. Texas patients are counting on us.

Sorry Texans: Medical marijuana still out of reach across state line

A new opinion piece appeared in the Texarkana Gazette that focuses on the inability for Texas residents to purchase medical marijuana in Arkansas.

There has been a lot of speculation on social media about what medical marijuana will mean to Arkansas and, specifically, the Twin Cities. The state line has always put the two Texarkanas in a unique situation, especially when it came to law enforcement. For example, for years the east side of the line was wet and the west was dry. Things have loosened up a bit in Bowie County in the past few years, but the Arkansas side still has a hold on hard liquor for retail sales.

 

Similar to the way Arkansas and Texas handled hard liquor sales, medical marijuana will only be available for access to patients who reside in Arkansas.

Marijuana for any purpose remains illegal in Texas and under federal law. Doctors have to be licensed in Arkansas to give the OK, and only Arkansas residents can obtain the medical marijuana card that allows them to buy in a legal dispensary.
Those who live in a state where medical marijuana is already legal, such as California and Nevada, and have a valid card from their home state will be allowed to buy in Arkansas. But Texas doesn’t allow medical marijuana. So if you are a Texas resident you are out of luck no matter what your medical needs. And we should add that mere possession is still illegal in Texas, and taking marijuana across state lines is not just a state but a federal offense.

Unfortunately for Texas citizens in need of medical marijuana, there is still no legal way to access dispensaries in Arkansas.

Texas: Ask your representative to support Rep. Lucio III’s amendment to protect doctors

Doctors cannot prescribe cannabis, but they can recommend it. Let’s fix the law!

Texas’ Compassionate Use Program has a poison pill: It requires doctors to prescribe cannabis, which is illegal under federal law! Please email your representative today to ask him or her to support Rep. Lucio III’s amendment that would protect doctors who participate in the Compassionate Use Program by allowing them to “recommend” cannabis instead.
In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed the Compassionate Use
Program, allowing those with intractable epilepsy to access medical cannabis to treat their seizure condition. Rep. Lucio III is planning to put forward an amendment to the Medical Board sunset bill that would make a small change, protecting doctors and bringing our state law in line with federal requirements.
Because of cannabis’ status as a Schedule I drug, it cannot be “prescribed.” It can, however, be recommended, and patients can be formally certified by doctors through the state registry. (More information is available here.) This small change does not expand the program, it simply corrects a small error and provides protection for participating doctors to make sure the program actually works. No working medical cannabis law relies on doctors “prescribing” cannabis.
Please contact your representative now; then, share this email with those who are interested in making the Compassionate Use Program functional.
Thank you for your support and activism!

Cannabis laws often don’t make sense

An article written by Dustin Nimz, a Texas criminal defense attorney,  appeared in the Times Record News today.  Nimz discusses the spike in arrests for marijuana over the last several years in the North Central Texas area.

The current marihuana laws do not reflect the opinions of Texans and have not kept up with the ways that people are using cannabis in our state. In the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of a representative sample of Texas voters 83 percent of Texans favor legalization of marijuana in some form, either medical only, small amounts only, or full legalization. The poll, and my own experiences talking to potential jurors indicates that the vast majority of Texans do not perceive marihuana as a danger to our communities and it should not be regulated as a drug.

In the current legislative session, a marihuana legalization bill advanced the farthest that any similar bill has before. HB 81 would have made possession of small amounts of marihuana, less than one ounce, a civil offense subjecting the citizen to a $250 fine. That fine would not be a part of a criminal record going forward that would affect that citizen’s ability to work, receive federal student aid, or drive a vehicle.

After two public hearings the bill, received favorable bipartisan support and was sent to the calendaring committee. It was set to be heard by the House and to receive a vote, but actions regarding bathrooms, education, and the budget did not allow the agenda to advance to HB 81. The authors expect to reintroduce the bill and others in the next session or include its provisions as an amendment to other bills this year.

Nimz goes on to discuss the ineffective  manner in which Texas treats marijuana derivatives.  In Texas, any item containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC),  the main active compound in marijuana, is classified as a controlled substance.

The possession of any amount of THC outside of the plant is a felony offense in the state of Texas with punishment ranges similar to possessing methamphetamine or cocaine. The purpose for the law was to keep people from trafficking in concentrated THC products such as hash, however the law is most commonly used to prosecute people bringing candy, baked goods, granola, etc., back from Colorado. Much of the marihuana consumed today is not smoked but used in these edible forms. Those products generally contain an amount of THC similar to a misdemeanor amount of marihuana but the entirety of the product is weighed.

For example, a standard amount of market marihuana would have around 18% THC. That would mean that a misdemeanor amount, under 4 ounces, would contain 18,720 mg of THC. However, a chocolate bar weighing 1.7 ounces containing just 180mg of THC would result in a second degree felony and up to 20 years in prison. The laws simply don’t make sense when we treat a college kid with a chocolate bar the same as a drug dealer with a quarter pound of meth.

I fight to protect people against unfair laws by discussing these same issues with District Attorneys, juries, and judges, but the real solution has to be common-sense reform of our drug laws in Texas.

Texas Legislature adjourns without reforming marijuana laws. Where’s the silver lining?

They failed to improve the law, but progress was made thanks to you!

During the 2017 legislative session, we saw unprecedented progress in our effort to reform Texas’ outdated and inhumane marijuana laws!

Medical Cannabis

Introduced in House and Senate 

Bipartisan support with 77 co-authors

Public Hearing (outstanding testimony!)

Passed House committee with 7-2 vote!

Scheduled for a vote in the House.

Decriminalization

Introduced in House and Senate

Bipartisan support with 41 co-authors

Public Hearing (outstanding testimony!)

Passed House committee with 4-2 vote!

Scheduled for a vote in the House.

Vote on by the House. (Beat by the clock.)

To bring about this historic change, advocates from around the state called, wrote, and visited with their legislators to express support for reform.

Texans from all corners of the Lone Star State filled the halls of our Capitol on lobby day and provided excellent testimony
during committee hearings.

We hosted training events, press conferences, educational exhibits and legislative briefings. 

We filmed key advocates and produced two videos, one featuring a Texas caregiver and the other featuring a Dallas police officer, which aired on television.

All of this work, executed with professionalism and passion, brought the reform movement closer than ever to our goal of repealing Texas’ failed policies of marijuana prohibition. Between sessions, we will continue educating our lawmakers, building relationships, empowering advocates, and publishing a voter guide so representatives can be held accountable.

We’re in it to win it, so let’s keep up the pressure!

Onward!

A frantic push for medical marijuana in Texas, bureaucratic heartbreak and renewed resolve

A great column by Neal Pollack was posted on The Cannabist today highlighting the strong push for medical marijuana policy reform in Texas.

In the state Senate, José Menendez filed a comprehensive medical bill last November, SB 269, but it has sat dormant in committee as the GOP-dominated body pursued other legislative priorities, like banning sanctuary cities and telling transgendered teens which bathroom to use.

In the House, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, a Democrat from Brownsville, saw a political opportunity, and a chance to do some good. After watching a heartwrenching YouTube video in which the Zartlers, a North Texas family, treat their teenage daughter’s severe autism with vaporized cannabis, Lucio III checked to see if a companion medical bill had been filed in the Texas House. It hadn’t. Thus HB 2107 was born. “We filed it right away,” Lucio III tells The Cannabist. “Just based on what I had read, I knew it was the right thing to do.”

Lucio III reached out to Rep. Jason Isaac, a Republican from Dripping Springs who had shown sympathy toward medical-marijuana reform, to sign on as cosponsor to HB 2107. But it languished in the House for months after it was first filed in mid-February.

Due to running out of time during legislative session, activists are going to have to spend another legislative season working to gain rights that, by 2019, likely will be more common throughout the country.

“People want someone’s head on a pitchfork,” Texas NORML’s Finkel said after the bill’s demise. “They are frustrated and angry. And you know what? They should be. They are dying. It’s awful. But they’re going to have to get involved during the full cycle…We finally find this bipartisan bill that so many people could agree on, and it was too late.”

Richardson family continues push to expand medical marijuana use in Texas

An  article posted by Marie Saavedra for WFAA discusses one Texas families Facebook video that recently went viral.

In late February, the parents of Kara Zartler took a risk by publicly posting a video showing their daughter’s symptoms at their worst. They did it to show what happened next. It’s Kara, being calmed by vaporized cannabis.

The clip was seen by millions on Facebook.
“I didn’t expect the volume of people that said ‘Woah, our child’s just like yours,'” said Mark Zartler, Kara’s father.
 The Zartlers  video had a great impact in the push for House Bill 2107, which would expand the access of patients with debilitating illnesses to use medical marijuana.
The Zartler’s were back and forth to Austin several times to campaign for the bill to be put on the legislative calendar. Even with bipartisan support, they learned last week it wouldn’t be heard this session.
The next session is in 2019, and the Zartler’s feel their odds of getting a bill heard will only get better. Until then, they’ll keep building on the momentum gained by their personal moment that became a public plea.
“I would do it again,” said Mark, of sharing the video publicly. “It’s worth kind of making a stand about something.”

 

Crowds march to remove stigma of medical marijuana

An article written by  Nicole Rosales for  KVUE  covered a large marijuana march in downtown Austin.

A large crowd marched through Austin on Saturday for the 10th annual Marijuana March.  Marchers hoped to bring attention to marijuana law reform.m

Dave Wieneche, the group’s athletics director said we’re constantly losing Texans because they need the drug for medical reasons.

“Or they’re just passing away because they can’t afford their medicine, or because the pharmaceuticals they’re taking are deteriorating their bodies,” he said.

Holding signs and chanting, the march began at Austin City Hall and trailed through Downtown before it ended at the steps of the Texas State Capitol.

Several speakers spoke passionately about the effects current laws have on them.

 

Eric Espionza, born with cerebral palsy and an active marijuana user, said although three bills related to cannabis legalization have failed, the fight isn’t over.

“The next two years are vital for us. We need you to be the voice you said you would be for us and stand for us when we cannot,” Espionza said.

The next opportunity to pass legislation will come in 2019 when the Texas legislature meets again. Until then, there are already 29 states which have passed medical marijuana laws.

DPS draws fire on medical marijuana licensing

Originally posted by Ileana Najarro on May 13, 2017 for Houston Chronicle here

Shortly after the Texas Legislature authorized limited use of medical marijuana in 2015 to treat people with intractable epilepsy, the Department of Public Safety’s chief financial officer projected the agency would need to license 12 dispensaries to meet the needs of some 150,000 people across the state who suffer from the condition.

Two weeks ago, DPS granted conditional approval for just three, frustrating families that were counting on easy access to the low-THC strain of cannabis as well as several Texas companies looking to enter the industry.

Patty Bates-Ballard, who lives near Dallas, worries the state just made it more difficult for her 14-year-old son to get the drugs that could soothe his daily seizures. She was speechless when she learned that neither of the state’s largest cities, Houston and Dallas, will have a dispensary. Two were approved in Austin and one in the small town of Schulenburg 80 miles away.

“They are negligent in what they are doing,” Bates-Ballard said. “They are blocking us from getting the medication we need for our son.”

Forty other companies, including one in Houston with ties to the Texas Medical Center, were denied licenses. Several of those say they are looking at ways to fight back. They claim DPS is barring patients’ access to needed medicine and question the integrity of the licensing process.

Critics, including nonprofit groups representing the medical cannabis industry, worry DPS is undermining the state’s fledgling efforts to provide medical marijuana.

“This program should never have gone to a law-enforcement agency,” said Keith Oakley, CEO of the Medical Cannabis Association of Texas. “This should have been given to the Department of Health.”

The Compassionate Use Act, signed into law in 2015, mandated that DPS license at least three companies that would cultivate and dispense low-THC cannabis for patients with intractable epilepsy. It granted rule-making authority of the Compassionate Use Program to DPS.

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, called that approach unusual.

“Most other states either regulate through a public health agency, a specially created commission, or some combo of agencies like public health, pharmacy and agriculture,” West wrote in an email. “Colorado is a little different, in that it houses marijuana regulation within the Department of Revenue, but it still isn’t law-enforcement-regulated.”

Ranking system a surprise

DPS declined to be interviewed for this story, saying the licensing process is ongoing. Final approvals must be granted by Sept. 1.

In emailed responses to questions, an agency spokesman cited a “statutory requirement that the department license no more than the number necessary to provide reasonable statewide access and availability.”

The spokesman also said DPS had reviewed compassionate-use programs in other states and determined three dispensaries would be sufficient.

Eight DPS employees ranked applicant companies on specific factors, including technological capacity, security measures and cover letters. Should any of the currently approved licensees fail upcoming site inspections, DPS will replace them with the applicant that ranked next on the list.

“Rules were developed through research on other states’ programs and input from legislators, state agencies, stakeholders, and the general public,” DPS said in the email.

Patrick Moran, founder of Texas Cannabis and the nonprofit Texas Cannabis Industry Association, said he and others who were denied a license did not know about the ranking system when they applied. He said they first heard of the rankings when DPS released its list of approved licenses.

Initially, Moran said, DPS had informed companies their applications would be reviewed as a whole, not in discrete sections assessed individually. As applications started coming in, the agency said representatives from other state agencies with expertise in agriculture and health would assist in the review process.

Moran and others complain that after all the applications were filed, DPS reverted back to an in-house-only review.

Members of the review panel have expertise in finance, security, fire safety, information technology and laboratory analysis, the DPS spokesman said. The agency also said rule changes were implemented as required by law, with comment periods and publication in the Texas Register.

It was in a September 2015 Texas Register entry that DPS Chief Financial Officer Suzy Whittenton said the state would likely issue 12 licenses, all to small businesses, including “four micro businesses.”

Regarding patient access, DPS said it would allow the dispensing organizations to set prices and determine how their employees would deliver the medication.

That, too, raised concerns.

“What we have is a system that will inevitably mean higher prices,” said Franklin Snyder, a Texas A&M University law professor who studies the legal marijuana industry.

Snyder applauded DPS for allowing out-of-state companies to apply, but many frown upon that decision. While 37 Texas-based companies applied, two of the three licenses went to companies based in Georgia and Florida. The other was granted to a company called Compassionate Cultivation.

A pair of Austin-based personal injury lawyers are listed as having an ownership stake in Compassionate Cultivation, but a company spokesman declined to provide information on the rest of the company’s leadership including details on the group’s chief medical officer.

Texas firms at a disadvantage

Scott Bier, CEO of Houston-based applicant Green Well, said many Texas companies were at a disadvantage competing against groups from states that already have legalized medical marijuana.

“They have punished small business in Texas,” Bier said.

Moran said that disadvantage could worsen if Texas doesn’t expand the Compassionate Use Program. Nationally, the industry is projected to be worth $7.7 billion in 2021. Delay will help only established national brands, what Moran calls “big marijuana.”

Even Texas applicants with experience abroad lost out. Houston-based Indoor Harvest has for years provided infrastructure for a Canadian medical marijuana company. For its Texas license application, the Houston group noted its current joint venture with Alamo CBD in San Antonio and Vyripharm Biopharmaceuticals housed in the Texas Medical Center.

The group scored a 76.9 out of a possible 100, ranking No. 16 on the DPS list. The top three companies scored between 89.6 and 93.6.

“We are moving into Colorado now,” said Chad Sykes, chief innovation officer for Indoor Harvest.

Other shut-out companies, including Green Well, indicated they, too, would cross state lines. They may be joined by more patients and families.

“There’s nothing much we can do except perhaps break the law if we stay in Texas,” Bates-Ballard said.

Michael Knight from Conroe has a 21-year-old son who was diagnosed with epilepsy three years ago. Although he doesn’t qualify under the current Texas program, his family had hoped the state program would be expanded this legislative session to include patients with conditions other than intractable epilepsy.

After a House bill to do that just failed, Knight decided he may move his family to Colorado, perhaps over the objections of his son.

“He doesn’t want to leave,” Knight said. “He’s got friends here.”

Texas Marijuana Policy Reform: Well fought, but beat by the clock…

Compassionate use and penalty reduction bills run out of time to advance. Let us thank those who stood for sensible policy.

 Our Texas Legislature convenes for only 140 days every other year. This session, we made tremendous strides forward toward more sensible marijuana policies in Texas. Unfortunately, the legislation we’ve been supporting didn’t make it before clock struck midnight last night, the deadline for House bills that have passed committee to be voted on in the House.

Please consider sending a quick thank you note to the legislators who championed marijuana law reform.

There is one final way for us to see reform this session: amendments. Many bills are still in play at the Texas Capitol. We’re working to identify bills that can be amended to include language that would change Texas’ marijuana laws in a meaningful way. Keep an eye out for action alerts if/ when this happens.

You can find a full summary of each marijuana policy-related bill here.

And, here’s a breakdown of what happened with the two bills that gained the most traction — HB 81, Chairman Joe Moody’s bill to reduce penalties for low-level possession to a civil fine and HB 2107, Rep. Eddie Lucio III’s bill to make the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive:

HB 81, Chairman Joe Moody’s bill to reduce penalties for low-level possession, was advanced by the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on April 3 with a vote of 4-2. Unfortunately, Chairman Todd Hunter and the Calendars Committee declined to schedule the bill for a vote until the very last day possible, giving it little chance of making the deadline.

HB 2107, Rep. Eddie Lucio III’s bill to make the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive, earned the support of a majority of the Texas House of Representatives, with 77 Democrats and Republicans signing on as co-authors. This happened after an outstanding hearing where the committee heard testimony from witnesses ranging from mothers of sick children to a retired judge sharing the story of a family in his neighborhood that is illegally healing a toddler living with terminal disabilities. In spite of his own opposition to the bill, Chairman Four Price demonstrated exemplary character by bringing the bill up for a vote, which resulted in its passage with a supportive vote of 7-2 by the committee members.

Regrettably, the bill made it to the Calendars Committee just 1.5 hours too late, keeping it from being scheduled for a vote in the Texas House where it would have surely passed, thanks to the 77/150 co-authors of the bill.

While there certainly is cause for us to be disappointed, lawmakers and advocates alike worked hard this session and brought about unprecedented progress. Our work continues until session ends and then during the 18-month interim.

We won’t let up the pressure until Texas has an inclusive medical cannabis law and stops criminalizing marijuana consumers! We hope you won’t either.

Onward!