When Ana Maria Abba's autistic son started taking CBD oil, which comes from cannabis, the changes were obvious.
They lived in California at the time, where medical marijuana is legal. Diagnosed as severely autistic at age two, her son often had unexpected outbursts if he became too excited or upset. As he got older, he couldn't participate at school or therapy because he was too anxious and too distracted and had trouble engaging with his therapists or instructors. Abba said that the CBD oil, however, calmed her son to the point that his autism was no longer a roadblock in his daily life, but merely a hurdle.
“He improved significantly across the board, mostly in cognition and awareness," she said. He had the ability to learn because he's not as anxious anymore. He was enjoying his life again. He started getting curious again. Most of all, he was just happier.”
Then they moved to Texas, where, because medical marijuana is still illegal in all but the rarest and most restrictive circumstances, he no longer has access.
Whether he'll get it back is a decision now resting with the Texas Legislature. This session, the medical marijuana bill, House Bill 2107, has made unprecedented progress — and finally appears to have enough votes to pass in the House.
The question now, however, is whether it will even make it to the House floor.
Last week, for the first time ever, the bill passed 7 to 2 out of the Committee on Public Health after lawmakers heard hours of testimony from mothers of children suffering from epilepsy and autism, as well as veterans battling PTSD. Within two days of that hearing, 71 additional lawmakers signed on as co-authors to the bill, up from just six. And that includes 29 Republicans. Now, with 77 surefire supporters out of 150 House members, that almost guarantees the bill's passage in the House.
The problem: Although the bill has passed committee, it has not yet made it onto the House calendar. The House Calendars Committee must choose to put the bill on the floor by Thursday. If it doesn't make it by then, the bill will die.
“We have already clogged up [the Calendar Committee's] phones to where they can't get any work done,” said Cara Bonin, executive director of Houston NORML. “So now we're emailing them, asking them to vote the bill out onto the floor so we can actually have our representatives show us what they're made of. For so many years, our representatives have gotten to avoid having a public record vote on how they feel about medical marijuana because it never made it that far.”
At this point, time is the bill's biggest foe. Even though the Calendar Committee is headed by a Republican, Representative Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, six co-authors of the medical marijuana bill are also on the committee, including its vice president, Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin). Meaning it might just have a shot.
Bonin said that having more boots on the ground in Austin and appealing to individual lawmakers in person has seemed to make the real difference this year. Lawmakers have heard from mothers whose children have dozens of seizures per day. They have heard from Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism — moms like Abba — whose children can be violent and out of control without the cannabis oil to calm them. They've heard from a Parkinson's disease patient who cannot hold a spoon or write her name, unless medical marijuana calms her nerves. And they've heard from veterans suffering from PTSD, who have been driven to the point of suicide and who credit their stability to medical cannabis.
“Some people are afraid with what happens to the children,” Bonin said. “We're not talking about kids getting a bag at school and getting home and getting high. When these people consume the cannabis, it elevates them to a level where at least they're not suffering anymore.”
When Abba's son stopped taking the CBD oil in Texas, she said, his aggression and outbursts came back. He became reckless, putting toys in the toilet, kicking kids at school. “The quality of life just plummeted,” Abba said. “It was almost like he was back to being severe again. I couldn't leave him alone for a minute. Not even a minute.”
Members of the House of Representatives have heard plenty of stories like her son's, she said. Now she only hopes they do something about it.
Correction, 9:50 a.m.: A previous version of this story misspelled Ana Maria Abba's last name.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.