A conservative approach to cannabis reform


By Morris Denton

We all know Texas is a conservative state, with a conservative legislature and a conservative governor, and that probably isn’t going to change anytime soon. So, when we talk about reforming our state’s cannabis laws, there is no question that expanding access to medical cannabis in Texas is a complex matter with unique challenges.

But just because law reform is complicated in this conservative state does not mean it’s impossible.

We’re building on a strong foundation of medical cannabis here in Texas. Our state program is by design one of the strictest in the nation, and it puts patient safety at the forefront with intensive physician involvement, stringent testing and extensive regulations for licensed providers of cannabis oils that have low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element known as THC, and is rich in cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of cannabis that is used to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions

That means patients in our state with legal access to medical cannabis know they are getting the highest quality CBD medicine, free from harmful contaminants too often found in medical cannabis products in other states, where regulations are poorly designed or enforced.

While our medical cannabis program has improved the lives of many patients across the state, only a small sliver of Texans who may benefit from the scientifically proven medical properties of cannabis currently have access to locally made pharmaceutical-grade cannabis products. The Texas Compassionate Use Act (CUA), which passed in 2015 and became operational in early 2018, has one qualifying medical condition: intractable epilepsy, also known as drug-resistant epilepsy.

Currently, 46 states have passed laws legalizing some form of medical cannabis, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Research indicates cannabis may be a helpful treatment option for a number of conditions not currently included in the Texas medical cannabis program. A landmark 2017 study by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine spotlighted substantial evidence of therapeutic benefits for people with multiple sclerosis and those undergoing cancer treatment, among other health conditions.

And that’s precisely why veterans, parents and other advocates across this state have become vocal proponents for expanding the Texas program to include chronic pain, spasticity, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), terminal illnesses and other conditions.

As public opinion becomes increasingly supportive of broader access to medical marijuana in Texas, and scientific research supporting the use of cannabis for numerous conditions continues to mount, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about efforts to expand the Texas medical cannabis program. But given our state’s political bent, there is little margin for error when it comes to increasing patient access. Lawmakers have to do it right, and the Department of Public Safety has to do it right. We need rules that are comprehensive enough to keep businesses accountable, but flexible enough to effectively expand patient access and pharmaceutical-grade product offerings.

We need legislators, business owners, regulators and community members to work together to advance the interests of Texas citizens, while at the same time holding all stakeholders accountable. This is the key to progressive cannabis reform in our state.

Cannabis advocates came close to moving the needle in the most recent legislative session with House Bill 2107, which sought to expand the CUA to include patients with debilitating conditions such as terminal cancer and PTSD. Despite having broad bipartisan support, the measure failed to make it to the House floor for a vote by deadline.

But I’m hopeful for our chances of passing meaningful reform in 2019, so long as we proceed at a steady, measured pace. We must ensure any legislation that moves forward mandates clear testing and safety requirements for all cannabis products, maintains physician oversight and implements rigorous safeguards to prevent diversion and access by non-registered patients. And if we can put forward legislation that meets these strict standards, I believe our state will continue moving in the right direction, enabling more Texans to have the option of utilizing the therapeutic properties of medical cannabis — within a safe and regulated marketplace — to ease their suffering and improve their quality of life.

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