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Lawmakers in Texas diligently worked over Memorial Weekend to try and produce something of substance this legislative session regarding Cannabis reform. While many states move quickly toward increased cannabis offerings, Texas, led by Republican Governor Greg Abbot, has been unwilling to expand any access to cannabis.

The Bills Author has not always been a proponent of cannabis expansion in Texas

On Tuesday, May 26, 2019, Lawmakers in the Lone Star State passed House Bill 3703 that aims to increase the scope of the Texas Compassionate Care Program enacted in 2015. The current program allows doctors to prescribe cannabis with low THC (0.5% THC) only to patients who have epilepsy.

These patients must exhaust every other option before seeking a marijuana prescription. The prescriptions approval also requires signatures from two physicians.

The new legislation would remove this two-physician mandate. It would also add seven conditions to the list while easing the qualification level for epilepsy coverage.

The bill’s author, Republican state Representative Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth, was not an advocate of expansion in 2017. She recently cited new data as the motivator for her current about-face.

What the Bill Aims to Do for Patients in Texas

The new bill looks to add these qualifying illnesses: neurodegenerative diseases, terminal cancer, spasticity, multiple sclerosis, seizures, autism, ALS, and epilepsy (without requiring the exhaustion of all other options first). If passed the bill would also eliminate the requirement of two physicians signing the prescription.

The prescribing doctors would have to be “board certified in a medical specialty relevant to the treatment of the patient’s particular medical condition by the American Board of Medical Specialties or the Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists.” The physicians must also devote a “significant portion of their clinical practice to the evaluation and treatment of the patient’s particular medical condition.”

Critiques of the Bill Call for More Reform

While most pro-cannabis Texans are happy to get this victory, many critics worry that it is only a small step toward real reform. Thirty-three other states have passed bills allowing broader coverage for patients. One of the most significant sticking points this session was coverage of PTSD.

Proponents felt strongly that its inclusion would help veterans and first responders. While opponents cited a lack of scientific data as their reason for blocking its addition. Those who fought for PTSD’s inclusion will now have to wait until the 2021 legislative session for any further cannabis reform.

The other area of contention surrounded the THC level contained in the cannabis that physicians could prescribe. Currently, the THC level in Texas cannot exceed .05%, which is 29.5% lower than the level allowed in some other states.

What did the Governor do with the Bill?

The bill sat on the desk of Governor Greg Abbott until June 14, 2019. During his first three years in office, Abbott was viewed as the most significant obstacle to Texas’ cannabis reform. Last fall that changed when he said he was open to the idea of lowering criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. His change of direction still placed him far behind many legislatures in his party. Last year many Republican legislators tried to eliminate criminal charges for the position of small quantities.

The Republican Governor did not make any public comments about the bill but signed it into law on June 14, 2019, two days before the deadline. The rules will now go into effect on September 1, 2019.

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