Apr 20, 2023 - News

The effort to expand Texas' medical marijuana program

A marijuana plant, with some visible crystals near the top

Photo: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

A bill approved by the Texas House this month would expand the list of conditions that qualify for the state's medical marijuana program.

The latest: House Bill 1805, sponsored by Public Health Committee Chair Stephanie Klick, a Republican from Fort Worth, passed the House 127-19 and now heads to the Senate.

What's happening: The bipartisan legislation would expand the state's 2015 Compassionate Use law, which allows physicians to prescribe low-THC cannabis to treat symptoms of epilepsy, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions.

  • The new bill would allow doctors to prescribe up to 10 milligrams of cannabis for chronic pain cases that might normally warrant an opioid prescription.

Plus: The bill would also change the way THC — the psychoactive agent in cannabis — is measured in medical marijuana.

  • THC would be measured in milligrams per dose, the calculation most other medical marijuana programs use, and not as a percentage of the overall weight — which is how Texas measures it now.

Context: The state's medical cannabis program has roughly 10,000 to 12,000 active participants, according to Austin-based Texas Original, the state's largest medical cannabis provider.

  • For comparison: Florida's medical marijuana program had nearly 800,000 patients enrolled by the end of 2022.

Flashback: During a public hearing last month, military veterans enrolled in the Compassionate Use Program told lawmakers that medical marijuana has helped them with both trauma and pain, according to the Texas Tribune.

  • "It doesn't make me high," one Navy veteran testified. "It just helps the pain subside so I can function."

Zoom in: Nearly half of the state's medical marijuana patients live in Central Texas, owing in part to the legal requirements governing where the product can be kept overnight, Texas Original CEO Nico Richardson tells Axios.

  • Roughly one-quarter of patients live in North Texas, and one-fifth live on the Gulf Coast, Richardson says.

The big picture: More than 80% of Texans support legislation that would legalize marijuana for a wide range of medical treatments, according to a poll by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

What they're saying: "Right now, if you're a veteran and you're suffering from PTSD, you can qualify for the program," Richardson says. "But if you're a veteran who suffered a combat wound that's causing you pain, you can't."

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