The 86th Texas Legislature will be remembered as a landmark in Lone Star state history for the rights of Texas patients and their families.
The new medical cannabis law, passed with bipartisan support and signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, significantly expands access to hundreds of thousands more Texas patients.
When it was originally established in 2015, the Compassionate Use Act only permitted patients with intractable epilepsy the option of medical cannabis, and then only after they received approval from two licensed neurologists. The new legislation requires only one doctor’s recommendation, and expands medical cannabis access to patients with all forms of epilepsy and other seizure disorders, as well as patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), spasticity, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), autism, terminal cancer, and incurable neurodegenerative conditions including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.
Treatment options for these debilitating medical conditions often fall short, restricting patients to the use of expensive, potentially addictive and sometimes ineffective pharmaceutical medications, many of which come with serious side effects. Access to safe, regulated and legal medical-grade CBD could transform the lives of all of these patients and their families.
The public understands this: A recent Quinnipiac University national poll showed that a stunning 93 percent of Americans support a patient’s right to access medical cannabis if it’s prescribed by a physician, while a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll indicated that fewer than 20 percent of Texans think cannabis should be illegal in all circumstances. Americans want to see medical decisions left in the hands of medical professionals, and this expansion is a significant step forward in ensuring that more Texans with debilitating medical conditions have access to this promising treatment option.
This new law did not satisfy everyone, with some calling for an increase in the allowable THC content of products. And not every medical condition that advocates fought for made it into this legislation: Post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and traumatic brain injury are still not considered qualifying conditions, and for patients who’ve been denied legal access, the hope that medical cannabis offers could drive them to risk the unregulated CBD market.
Sadly, the CBD products sold at retail and online are often mislabeled, substandard and potentially hazardous, particularly for patients with serious medical conditions that could expose them to contaminants or heavy metals. It stands to reason that all of us are better off when medicine is regulated, tested for safety, accessible and administered under a doctor’s care.
But there’s no denying that Texas has taken a huge step forward politically and culturally. Authored by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, who wrote the original Compassionate Use Act in 2015, and sponsored by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, this legislation passed with bipartisan support and received unanimous approval in the Senate. It earned the signature of a conservative governor who had previously expressed opposition to expanding medical cannabis access. The patients and concerned citizens who lobbied tirelessly and offered powerful testimonials to lawmakers in Austin proved that, even though change may happen slowly, it can be achieved.
As a licensed medical cannabis provider, I see every day how this medicine offers hope, reduces suffering and changes lives. As new data and research emerges around medical cannabis, we should continue to support and advocate for patients with other conditions who could benefit from it. But we must also celebrate this landmark achievement.
Texas patients, doctors, the public and our lawmakers agree: CBD is medicine, and because of this bill, hundreds of thousands of Texans can now access it. That is compassion in action.