The Texas Department of Public Safety has granted a license to grow medical marijuana to Cansortium Texas, one of three companies that earned approval from the state. The grant was given on September 1, and it will allow the program to get under way after more than two years of planning.
Out of 43 applicants, three companies were approved in May to cultivate marijuana in Texas: Cansortium, which is a subsidiary of a Florida company; Surterra Texas, another company that already produces medical marijuana in Florida; and a third company called Compassionate Cultivation.
Surterra and Compassionate Cultivation are still waiting on their final license approval.
It's still baby steps. Licensing will allow production to begin, but few patients can qualify for the program and less than 1 percent of physicians in the state can register to prescribe medical marijuana to their patients.
Texas in 2015 legalized the Compassionate Use Act, which permits patients who are suffering from intractable epilepsy to access medical marijuana that's effective specifically for those seizure disorders. The marijuana has low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — a maximum of 0.5 percent — just enough to relieve pain but not enough to get you high.
Unlike other, more functional medical marijuana programs, the Texas version requires doctors to "prescribe" medical marijuana, which is a violation of federal law and could put those participating doctors at risk of losing their DEA registration or even facing criminal charges.
According to data obtained from the Texas Medical Bureau, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and the American Board of Clinical Neurophysiology, only 411 doctors in the state have the necessary qualifications to register for the program. This amounts to approximately 0.54 percent of the licensed physicians in Texas. Far fewer may decide to register in light of the personal and professional risk involved.
"The few patients that could be helped by this program are now one step closer to finding relief," says Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "However, the extremely limited scope and flawed language may doom the program unless it is revised. Lawmakers need to stop stalling and approve comprehensive improvements when they are back in session in 2019. Seriously ill Texans have waited long enough."
In February, Rep. Eddie Lucio III introduced HB 2107, which would have resolved the problems contained in the current Compassionate Use Program. A majority of House members signed on as supporters, but the bill did not get a floor vote before the end of the session.
According to a February 2017 poll, the majority of Texans and several major organizations support a workable medical marijuana law. The Texas Republican Party approved a platform last year that called on the Legislature to improve the Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of medical marijuana. The Texas Democratic Party adopted a similar platform. In 2013, the Texas Nurses Association took a position in support of allowing patients to access medical marijuana to treat chronic pain and other medical conditions when it is deemed appropriate by a medical practitioner.