Texas Legislature Approves Limited Medical Cannabis Bill

Cannabis advocates have scored a small but important victory in Texas as the state legislature passed a limited medical cannabis bill, Senate Bill 339, on May 19, 2015.

A vote of 108-38 from the House is what sealed the deal for the bill, and now it heads to the desk of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Previously, Abbott had pledged that he would veto any cannabis decriminalization bill, so it is unknown whether or not he will sign the bill into law.

Although many have praised the bill’s passage, supporters from both sides of the cannabis debate have criticized the measure, albeit for different reasons.

The majority of the opposition to the bill came from prohibitionists that fear that cannabis legalization of any kind will lead to increased crime, more children on drugs, and western civilization descending into a drug-fueled dystopia. On the House floor, debate over the bill was less than civil.

“This is a bad bill,” yelled Rep. Mark Keough over the cacophony of boos and shouts that filled the House chamber, according to The Texas Tribune. Surprisingly enough, those in the cannabis community have also come out in criticism of the bill.

Heather Fazio is the Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. Speaking with CBS News, Fazio said that while legislators should be commended for acknowledging the medical efficacy of cannabis, the bill itself is more of a missed opportunity than a historic vote.

“Lawmakers missed several opportunities to amend the bill in ways that could have provided real relief to countless Texans,” Fazio said. “Not a single patient will be helped by this legislation.”

Under SB 339, patients suffering seizures related to epilepsy would theoretically be able to obtain low-THC/high-CBD cannabis oil. The reason the word “theoretically” is used is that the bill requires doctors to prescribe cannabis oil instead of “recommending” it.

Doctors cannot legally prescribe medication that has not been approved by the FDA, and they certainly cannot prescribe a schedule I narcotic either. However, there are less strenuous rules and regulations surrounding “recommending” a medicine, so doctor recommendations count as protected speech under the First Amendment.

By requiring doctors to prescribe medical cannabis oil, instead of recommending it, legislators put doctors in a very precarious legal position. Most doctors want to help their patients, but not at the risk of going to jail or losing their license. Whether by mistake or design, SB 339 more or less undermines itself.

Aside from contradictory language, cannabis supporters also point out that some seizure victims require higher amounts of THC than what SB 339 allows, making the measure a bit useless to them.

Regardless of where you are in the cannabis debate, it is hard to feel good about the passage of SB 339. Although well intentioned, the bill falls short of actually being able to help sick Texans. Passing SB 339 may be a historic moment for cannabis reform in Texas, but many Texas patients would agree that they would rather an efficacious bill than an historical one.

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