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How to navigate Texas’ medical marijuana laws

Many more Texans can now be prescribed medical marijuana now that the state has expanded its laws to include people living with cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Brad Horrigan /TNS

Texas lawmakers voted this year to expand access to medicinal marijuana to those living with cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The new law that went into effect last month also doubles the percent of THC allowed in products to 1 percent.

Even with the expansion to access, Texas’ medical marijuana laws can be confusing.

Heather Fazio, the director of the advocacy group Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, spoke to the Express-News about how to navigate one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the United States.

Eligibility

Lawmakers first passed the state’s Compassionate Use Act in 2015 for people suffering from intractable epilepsy and expanded the program to cover terminal cancer and disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease in 2019.

As of Sept. 1, you’re eligible for medical marijuana if you have the following conditions: epilepsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, cancer or PTSD.

The mother cannabis plants that Texas Original Compassion Cultivation uses to clone its plants are shown in the photo.

Jessica Phelps/San Antonio Express-News

You also have to be a permanent resident of Texas. There are no age limitations but patients under 18 may require a legal guardian.
Patients who suffer from chronic pain do not qualify for medical marijuana in Texas.

During this year’s legislative session, advocates sought to further amend the law to include eligibility for chronic pain patients and to raise the THC cap to 5 percent. House lawmakers agreed to the additional changes but members in the Senate removed those provisions.

Prescription policy

If you’re eligible, you have access to medical marijuana through the state’s compassionate use program. That program is run by the Texas Department of Public Safety and has strict guidelines for how to get a prescription and its use.

In Texas, you cannot go to your general practitioner to get medical marijauna. You must first go to a certified physician specializing in your medical condition. That doctor must determine that the “risk of the medical use of low-THC cannabis by the patient is reasonable in light of the potential benefit.” A second physician then must agree with the first doctor’s assessment before you can be added to the compassionate use registry database.

It’s important to remember that only physicians specializing in your medical condition who belong to the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas can assess whether you’re qualified to use medical marijuana. There are only 181 such doctors in the registry statewide.

Access to dispensaries are limited

When lawmakers passed the Compassionate Use Act in 2015, they required DPS to provide licenses to three dispensaries. However, as of October, there are only two in operation and they’re both in central Texas, posing a problem for those living in places such as El Paso, Fazio said.

Texas law expanding medical marijuana takes effect Sept. 1

MCALLEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A law that will expand the use of medical marijuana in Texas is going into effect on Sept. 1.

“Every condition being treated with medical marijuana is dosed very differently, its consumers very differently,” said Dr. Sujan Gogu a Family, Sports, and Pain Medicine Doctor at South Texas Health System Clinics.

The expanded law under the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana will now be open for people like veterans who suffer from PTSD, cancer patients, and other medical conditions. According to Dr. Gogu, there is still a process that has to be followed.

“You’d go to your primary care physician and you’d talk about the condition you have and see if it’s a viable option for you, it may or may not be a viable option for you,” he said.

What happens after the doctor approves your use of medical marijuana with other specialists?

Considering there isn’t a dispensary in the Rio Grande Valley and only a few in the state of Texas, Dr. Gogu said the process could take longer.

“It would probably be pharmacies that have compounding pharmacies part of their system that would carry a level of THC or specialty pharmacies that would carry it,” he said.

Dr. Gogu added that your primary care doctor also has to have a good relationship with those pharmacies that carry it, but said there are other hurdles that patients could face.

“It’s just not widely available, and it’s just not widely known and there’s just not many physicians that are comfortable prescribing it,” said Dr. Gogu.

While the Texas law has made progress since 2015, Dr. Gogu is hopeful once the expansion takes effect, access to medical marijuana will be easier for qualifying patients.

“Once education comes out. I think it will be readily more available for people but I still think it’s relatively limited right now,” he added.

The new law also raises the dosage limit of THC from .5% to 1%.

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