Amended medical marijuana bill passes committee unanimously

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Austin, Texas – A bill which would expand Texas’ medical marijuana program has passed out of the House Committee on Public Health with unanimous support.

HB 1365, filed by Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville), would expand the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP) to include more qualifying conditions and would allow more doctors to work with patients in the program. The legislation currently has the bi-partisan support of 56 state legislators as both authors and coauthors.

Conditions which would now qualify for participation in TCUP include cancer, autism, PTSD, and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Tourrette syndrome. Other diseases include Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis.

Beyond specifically designated medical conditions, the bill also covers endocannabinoid deficiency, cachexia or wasting syndrome, neuropathy, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, tic disorders, and any other approved medical condition or symptom caused by the treatment of a medical condition.

Since its inception in 2015, TCUP has been extremely limited in scope, serving only patients with intractable epilepsy who have already ruled out other medications, and permitting only certain specialist doctors to refer their patients to the program. This has caused very few patients, about 500, and roughly 50 doctors, to participate in TCUP. It also capped the THC percentage at 0.5 percent.

The bill was amended before being passed, and now includes establishing a Cannabis Therapeutic Research Review Board (CTRRB), adding an important in-state research program and requiring participating doctors to be educated on medical cannabis. The bill also offers patient protections such as parental rights, and protections for students who need to take their cannabis medicine at school.

A point of contention remains with the program, as advocates sought to change the requirements for doctors from “prescribe” to “recommend.” Marijuana is a Schedule I substance at the federal level, which puts doctors at odds with federal authorities due to it being illegal for doctors to prescribe a Schedule I substance. Changing the law to instead require doctors to “recommend,” as other states have done, would fix this issue. This was considered but not acted upon by legislators, though the bill does now define “prescription” in a way which offers some state-level protection for doctors.

Originally the bill would have lifted the cap on THC, however the amended version keeps the 0.5 percent restriction in place. The CTRRP will have the authority and duty to “determine the formulations and dosages, including rations of cannabinoids, that are medically appropriate for patients with particular debilitating medical conditions.” This would allow the board the flexibility to increase THC levels and ratios without having to further change the law.

“Continuing to restrict dosage access for patients limits the benefits a patient can receive from cannabis, but we’re pleased to know that lawmakers are taking action on this important issue,” says Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.

An issue important enough for Texans to spend upwards of 14 hours at the capitol for a hearing on HB 1365, giving testimony to the subcommittee about how they can and do benefit from medical marijuana.

This legislation now heads to the House Committee on Calendars where it will wait to be scheduled for debate and vote by the House of Representatives.

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