Texas Medical Marijuana Reform Goes Up in Smoke

Since June 2, 2015, Texas legislators and Governor Greg Abbot have been patting themselves on the back for signing Senate Bill 339, the state’s first medical marijuana bill, into law. Under this new law, patients with rare forms of epilepsy will be able to purchase the cannabis extract cannabidiol (CBD), also known as “hemp oil,” from a Texas Department of Public Safety-approved dispensary. CBD has been shown to help prevent epileptic seizures. Republican senator Kevin Eltife proposed the bill, and it was the only marijuana-reform bill to make it to Governor Abbot’s desk. The law went into effect September 1, 2015.

Texas Medical Marijuana Legislation

The passing of the bill has been touted as a “historic” step forward in the fight to legalize medical marijuana in Texas. Texas is one of just 13 states where medical marijuana is illegal, which is surprising, given the fact that 46 percent of Texans support legalization. Now that 14 other states have legalized the sale and use of CBD oil for specific medical conditions, maybe lawmakers are finally ready to help Texans suffering from epilepsy legally manage their condition using CBD, right?

Wrong. Unfortunately, the new law ain’t worth the paper it’s written on. Here’s why:

No Help for People With Epilepsy

Despite the fact that CBD is non-psychoactive and will not get you stoned, because it is a component of cannabis, it is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). So while states may legalize CBD oil, doctors, specifically neurologists and epileptologists, cannot prescribe it without breaking federal law and risking losing their DEA license which allows them to prescribe controlled substances.

Other states have circumvented federal law by requiring a doctor only “certify” or “recommend” a patient use CBD oil or other forms of medical marijuana. Senate Bill 339 clearly states patients can only purchase CBD oil if prescribed by a doctor. So the majority of Texas legislators, in an effort to make it seem like they actually give a damn about epileptic children, gave a collective “thumbs up” to a bill for a medicinal treatment no patient will actually be able to use.

Interestingly, the bill requires at least three CBD oil dispensaries be approved by the Texas Department of Public Safety by September 1, 2017. But without the language needed to protect doctors from breaking federal law, who exactly is going to open up a dispensary to sell something doctors can’t legally prescribe?

The Future of Marijuana Reform in Texas

Upon signing Senate Bill 339, Governor Abbott told the press, “I remain convinced that Texas should not legalize marijuana, nor should Texas open the door for conventional marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes.”

Whether or not this statement leaves any wiggle room for future legislation for the use of CBD oil or other cannabis products is anybody’s guess. Many advocates for marijuana reform are describing the new law as a step forward in the conversation about reform. If one marijuana-reform bill this year actually made it into law, imagine what might be possible in 2017 when the legislator reconvenes.

Unfortunately, Texans will have to wait until the second Tuesday in January in 2017 for the state legislature to meet again to discuss the future of marijuana reform in Texas. In the meantime, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative, chances are very good there’s an organization out there that aligns with your political beliefs and is advocating for the legalization of medical marijuana, including cannabis products like CBD oil. Take a moment to visit some websites, sign up for newsletters, and let your senator know how you feel.

Change is in the air. Who knows? Maybe in 2017, we’ll actually see some bills that actually help patients signed into law.

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