Texas’s top agriculture official said during a visit to one of the state’s three licensed growers of low-THC medical marijuana last week that he supports expanding the the current limited compassionate access program to include more patients who could benefit from cannabis—including those who would use it for toothaches.
“I would certainly expand medical marijuana,” Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said. “If it’ll help somebody, I’m for it. Whatever it is. I mean, a toothache, I don’t care. If it’s a cure, if it [alleviates] pain, we should be able to use that.”
Miller’s comments, first reported by Nexstar Media Group, came Thursday after touring the Austin-area grow facility of Compassionate Cultivation and speaking with a group of parents whose children use medical marijuana to treat autism and other conditions.
“Whatever it is. I mean, a toothache, I don’t care.”
The Republican elected official stressed that while he doesn’t endorse non-medical use of marijuana, “if someone has a condition that this chemical should help, they should be able to use it.”
The notion that anyone with so much as a toothache should have access to medical marijuana, however, isn’t shared by leaders in the Texas legislature, who so far have imposed strict limits on access and potency since the state legalized medical cannabis in 2015.
At first, the program was open solely to patients with intractable epilepsy. A bill signed into law last year added to the list of qualifying conditions—which now includes multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, autism, spasticity and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—but the program is still far more restrictive than those of nearby states. Oklahoma and Missouri, for example, both allow doctors to issue recommendations for any condition they believe will benefit from treatment with cannabis.
Texas also has among the most stringent limits in the country on THC potency, capping the main psychoactive component of marijuana at no more than 0.5 percent in legal products. By comparison, industrial hemp—legal under both Texas and federal law—can contain up to 0.3 percentTHC. High-THC marijuana legal under most other state programs, meanwhile, is typically around 20 percent THC, with some cured flower containing up to about 30 percent.
Advocates for safe access to medical marijuana have criticized Texas’s limited program for restricting treatment options for doctors and patients. While some patients see results with low-THC products due to their comparatively high levels of CBD, they argue, other patients have conditions that would benefit from higher levels of THC.
The limited list of qualifying conditions also shuts out patients who could see improvement with cannabis, advocates say. Even with the expanded list approved last year, the program “still leaves behind millions of Texas families that could benefit from legal access,” Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy Director Heather Fazio told Marijuana Moment at the time.
Lawmakers are expected to reconsider medical marijuana expansion when the legislature reconvenes in January. Legislative sessions happen every other year in Texas, and the state lacks a voter initiative process to allow citizens to change laws directly.
During his comments on Thursday, Miller also announced that Texas is nearing harvest time for hemp, which the state legalized last legislative session and began issuing cultivation licenses for this year. The agriculture commissioner said that more than 5,000 acres of hemp have been planted in the state by more than 1,000 licensed farmers.
Meanwhile, the state’s legalization of hemp has created marijuana enforcement complications for police, as the two forms of the cannabis crop are often indistinguishable to the naked eye. As a result, officers can’t consistently charge people without conducting lab analyses of seized cannabis for THC content, and some jurisdictions have stopped pursuing marijuana possession cases.
Cannabis possession arrests fell almost 30 percent in Texas from 2018 to 2019, state data released last week shows.