The Texas House of Representatives approved a bill to expand the state’s limited medical marijuana program on Monday.
The legislation would add multiple conditions that qualify patients for medical cannabis under the Compassionate Use Program, which currently only allows people with intractable epilepsy who’ve exhausted their pharmaceutical options to access low-THC marijuana.
The new conditions would include cancer, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.
The measure passed 121 to 23.
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That’s what passing a compassionate use marijuana bill looks like in the Texas House! @eddielucioiii ‘s HB 1365! #txlege https://t.co/JZ1QBajB2l pic.twitter.com/vNPL2tyIrg
— Diego Bernal (@DiegoBernalTX) May 7, 2019
Rep. Eddie Lucio (D), the bill’s sponsor, said prior to the vote on the House floor that he was speaking for “thousands of people in our state who are too sick to function or live in constant debilitating pain.”
“Patients, caregivers, and medical professionals have been working for years to see the passage of legislation expanding access to the Compassionate Use Program,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said in a statement. “We are so grateful for Rep. Eddie Lucio’s leadership and for the 121 members of the House who agree that patients with debilitating medical conditions deserve the medical freedom to choose cannabis if their doctors think it can help.”
Under the current program, finding a specialist doctor to issue the recommendation has proved onerous, which is part of the reason why there are only about 600 registered medical marijuana patients in the state of about 29 million people.
The legislation would also establish a Cannabis Review Board, which would be able to amend the allowable cannabinoid ratios in medicines available to patients. Currently, there’s a 0.5 percent THC cap on medical cannabis products.
Under the legislation as initially proposed, the board would have been able to add new qualifying conditions without specific approval from the legislature, but it was amended on the floor to remove that language.
“In working on this piece of legislation the last two years, the stakeholders really won my heart,” Rep. Mayes Middleton (R) said prior to the vote.
He said he sympathized with the plights of parents with children who suffer from conditions that would qualify them for medical cannabis under the bill and said he’s talked to veterans who have told him that “opioids ruined their lives.”
The legislation requires one more procedural vote in the House before heading to the Senate for consideration.
The chamber was also scheduled to vote on a separate medical cannabis expansion bill that would add epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and spasticity to the list of conditions that qualify patients for marijuana, but the House adjourned before getting to it. It will likely be considered on Tuesday.
Texas has been a hotbed for cannabis reform this year. Besides the medical marijuana expansion bill, which was approved by the House Public Health Committee last month, a bill to decriminalize low-level cannabis possession passed the full House last week. And legislation to legalize industrial hemp and its derivatives was unanimously approved by the House last month.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who is in a position to block the legislation in the Senate, mischaracterized comments from the Senate Judiciary Committee chair last week, claiming that decriminalization was dead in the chamber. In fact, Sen. John Whitmire (D) said that while the legislation doesn’t have the votes quite yet, he is actively working to rally support.
Last month, three Texas House committees discussed a total of 11 cannabis-related bills in one day.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.