Oct 27, 2022 - Business

State's medical cannabis program doesn't meet demand, advocates warn

Illustration of a marijuana leaf shown in the negative space of many leaves.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A state program that allows doctors to prescribe low-THC cannabis to patients with epilepsy, PTSD and other medical conditions isn't growing fast enough to meet demand, veterans advocates warned ahead of a Department of Public Safety Commission meeting Thursday.

Driving the news: The Public Safety Commission will take public comment on the state's compassionate use program, which the Legislature first approved for epilepsy patients in 2015.

Catch up quick: Since its initial approval, lawmakers have expanded the program for patients with a variety of medical conditions.

  • In 2019, the Legislature allowed qualified physicians to prescribe cannabis to patients with a seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, autism, terminal cancer and incurable neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Last session, lawmakers expanded medical conditions even further to include patients with non-terminal cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yes, but: There are only three dispensing organizations licensed in Texas as the number of eligible patients climbs, according to Geoff Young from the Veterans Cannabis Project.

  • As of September, the latest data available, more than 36,600 patients are part of the state's program.
  • DPS estimates the number will increase more than 300% by the end of next year, with more than 154,000 people in the program by December 2023.

Zoom in: Young estimates as many as 300,000 Texas veterans could be diagnosed with PTSD in the next year, making them eligible for the compassionate use program.

  • "We're far past a breaking point," Young said, adding that wait times for patients to receive cannabis often exceeds one month under the program. "The call to action should've been months, if not years, ago."

The other side: Morris Denton, CEO of state-licensed operator Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation, said the company is able to support current demand without long wait times because fewer patients are consistently purchasing the drug.

  • "There's a big difference between being an active patient and then just getting counted toward the program," Denton said.
  • Texas Original's biggest issue is regulations that prevent the company from storing inventory beyond their Austin location, he added.
  • "We want to be able to store inventory where it makes the most amount of sense," Denton said, adding that he expects DPS to change the regulation soon. "That's the biggest hiccup that we're facing as an industry right now that would have the biggest impact of patient accessibility."

Of note: The approval of new licensees are not on the commission agenda, and DPS officials did not return requests for comment.

  • The department is not accepting new applications for dispensing organization licenses.

How to watch: The livestream will be broadcast on the agency's YouTube channel at 9am or join in person at the Texas Department of Public Safety's headquarters at 6100 Guadalupe St., building E.


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