Will Texas’ market for medical cannabis grow quickly enough to sustain this new industry?
In 2015, Texas’ Compassionate Use Act was signed into law. The program creates a license for companies to grow, process, and distribute a type of cannabis oil to Texans with intractable epilepsy.
The law limits qualified patients to Texans with this specific type of epilepsy, an estimated 160,000 people. Patients must receive a prescription from two qualified physicians. As of today, there are 30 physicians statewide who are registered to prescribe medical cannabis.
Despite this limited market, there are three companies who have invested great resources to be among the first distributors of medical cannabis in Texas.
In addition to start-up costs associated with any business, these companies were also required to pay the state licensing fee of $500,000, after completing a 300-page application. Renewal is required every two years.
These licensing fees and required paperwork adds to the cost of the treatment, $0 of which is covered by insurance, since cannabis is classified as a Schedule I narcotic.
The treatment that is available is limited in scope. The law allows a dosage that can’t exceed more than 0.5% of THC and not less than 10% of cannabidiol. This dosage — to some medical marijuana advocates — is too low. In comparison, Colorado allows THC levels as high as 28%.
As strict as Texas’ access is to cannabis, 83% of Texans support legalization of some type of marijuana use, be it for medical or broader purposes, according to a 2017 UT/Texas Tribune poll. 53% of Texans support full legalization. Support for medical cannabis is likely due to the available research that illustrates medical marijuana as a safer alternative to highly addictive opioids.
But even with broad public support, only four bills were filed during the 2017 Texas Legislature that would either expand medical use of marijuana or loosen penalties for possession. None of these bills received committee hearings.
The Texas Legislature only meets in odd numbered years, so the medical cannabis community will have to wait until 2019 for their next opportunity to increase access for this treatment. The 2019 Legislature should prove to be more fruitful for advocates for a few reasons. One, there will be success stories of epilepsy patients whose quality of life has improved as a result of the Compassionate Use Act. Also, there is expected to be a growing number of self-identified “liberty conservatives” elected to the Legislature. And finally, expanding the Compassionate Use Act can help to curb the opioid epidemic, which costs Texans an estimated $20 billion a year, and will be a priority issue for lawmakers next year.