Yesterday Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state’s first-ever medical marijuana law. Which is a huge deal when you consider the draconian laws governing all things herb in this state. At last, there's finally some recognition from state lawmakers that cannabis has legitimate uses, sign that attitudes at the Lege are finally shifting when it comes to pot.
But, historic as it may be, Texas’s first medical marijuana law – which, even as written, only aims to help a very, very limited number of patients – might be practically useless.
See, Senate Bill 339, which Gov. Abbott signed yesterday, was intended to legalize marijuana extracts containing high levels of cannabidiol, or CBD oil, and only trace levels of THC, the stuff that actually gets you high. So, for advocates who were hoping for a so-called "whole plant" medical marijuana law (one that would allow for anything from CBD oil all the way to a big fat joint to treat anything from epilepsy to post-traumatic stress), the bill was already kind of a bummer. But at least some patients — arguably those suffering the most — will be eligible for medical cannabis. Under Texas's new law, patients suffering uncontrollable seizures and rare forms of epilepsy can get this medical marijuana extract with a doctor’s prescription.
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And therein lies the problem. According to folks with the Marijuana Policy Project, the national marijuana reform group that came to Texas to lobby state lawmakers this session, all other medical marijuana states only require that doctors “recommend” or “certify” patients seeking medical cannabis. The reason? “Prescribing” medical marijuana is one of those legal grey areas created when state laws legalizing marijuana started to run hard up against the blanket federal prohibition of the plant. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, meaning the feds still consider cannabis a plant with “no currently accepted medical use,” on par with heroin or LSD.
In other states, doctors are able to wiggle around federal prohibition by “recommending” or “certifying” patients for medical marijuana because the feds have acknowledged that as First Amendment-protected activity. However the language in Texas’s law requires doctors to “prescribe” CBD oil to seizure patients. Heather Fazio, MPP's Texas political director, warns that Texas doctors likely won’t prescribe CBD oil, despite a new state law legalizing it, because they won’t want to run afoul of federal law and risk criminal sanctions, not to mention the possibility of losing their DEA license to prescribe other controlled substances.
Still, “today is one for the history books,” Fazio says. “The Texas Legislature is sending a resounding message: Marijuana is medicine. We commend our Texas lawmakers and look forward to continuing this conversation when the 85th Legislature convenes in 2017.”