Texas Politics & Cannabis MD 420 March 8, 2019 Political Provided By TexMed Ventures In early 2018, the first sales of low-THC medical cannabis began in Texas, pursuant to the Compassionate Use Act. While the legislation is surely helping a limited amount of patients, it is highly flawed and extremely limited. According to current law, only children who suffer from intractable epilepsy, a serious seizure condition that affects over 200,000 children in the U.S., may participate – ignoring a much larger number of Texans who suffer from other conditions including chronic pain, cancer, PTSD, and other neurological conditions like ALS, Alzheimers, Tourette syndrome and Autism. The current law also unnecessarily puts physicians at risk: State law requires physicians to write prescriptions for marijuana products, which are clearly illegal under current federal law, of losing their medical licenses since cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug. An easy way to fix this situation is to establish a state-approved medical cannabis certification training process that protects certified doctors and shifts the burden of liability to the state. LoneStar Life Sciences Inc. is currently developing such a platform, and will be offering a discount to our TexMed Foundation for Compassionate Care members. Finally, the state approved only three companies to operate medical cannabis businesses in the entire state. Texas licensed only three dispensaries producing high-CBD/Low-THC products, none of which are in the western half of the state or in fast-growing cities along the Mexico border. Each serves as cultivator, processor, and dispensary (notice – not a pharmacy) for those patients in Texas who qualify. The problem with this is that two out of the three companies approved were not even Texas based businesses! One is from Florida, the other from Georgia, and the only Texas based company is from Austin. How does that happen, you ask? The answer is quite simplistic. Politicians, without knowledge or experience in medical cannabis, sent out a comprehensive survey, and whoever answered the questions best, got one of three licenses. It never crossed their minds that they should protect a Texas Cannabis program from being invaded from other states in what could undoubtedly be the largest hemp and cannabis producer in the US by 2022. In contrast, Colorado’s cannabis restrictions keep non-residents out by demanding a two year residency for any and all cannabis company owners and investors. The projects and the funds all stayed within the state. They protected their cannabis program for “in-state residents only.” Texas did not. As of now, these three licenses aren’t worth the paper they were written on. Since these licenses are for CBD production only, the new Farm Bill rules for legalizing commercial hemp (and CBD production), will soon be cultivated by farmers all over the state. As for hemp, Texas is expected to pass in March, which opens up CBD processing to an entirely new level – thus eliminating the three early adopting companies with a single signature of President Trump. More importantly, THC is not expected to pass in the 2019 session. Which means these previously approved licenses will basically become worthless. In past years, lawmakers have proposed comprehensive cannabis programs, but none have passed. Governor Abbott, who passed a law in 2015, is noncommittal at best about expanding the program in 2019 to help with patients suffering from other chronic health or mental issues. Since Texas’ last legislative session in 2017, 57% of voters in neighboring Oklahoma approved a broad medical cannabis law, and thousands of patients have already registered there. Meanwhile, the Texas Republican Party’s platform now includes support for both medical cannabis and decriminalization. Here are the updates from 2018’s Republican convention: Civil Penalty: We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time. Passed 81% – 19%. Compassionate Use Act: We call upon the Texas Legislature to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients. Passed 90% – 10%. Cannabis Classification: Congress should remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 and move to Schedule 2. Passed 82% – 18%. Industrial Hemp: We recognize industrial hemp as a valuable agricultural commodity. We urge the Texas Legislature to pass legislation allowing cultivation, manufacture, and sale of industrial hemp and hemp products. Passed 83% – 17%. At the November Midterms, another major roadblock to cannabis legalization in the US and in Texas was justifiably kicked out of his seat! Incumbent Texas Rep. Pete Sessions (R) lost to Democratic challenger Colin Allred, a former NFL player. During his time in the House, Sessions (hard core christian) personally blocked dozens of cannabis proposals from consideration. In fact, Sessions has been such a staunch opponent to anything cannabis that Marijuana Policy Project founder Rob Kampia worked with other advocates to launch a PAC earlier this year dedicated to unseating him in the midterms. In fact, Kampia said in a report to the Examiner, “[Sessions] is in fact what I call a sphincter who is constipating the process. The reason we haven’t won is just process; it’s not content.” As for the Democrats, the party’s current platform as adopted in 2016 supports decriminalizing marijuana and further legalizing and regulating its “use, cultivation, production, and sale as is done with tobacco and alcohol.” In addition, another interesting political twist happened only a week after the November midterms – Senator José Menéndez’s, office in San Antonio announced November 12th that he filed a bill to allow medical marijuana in Texas. Senate Bill 90 is a comprehensive and compassionate medical cannabis bill. The proposed legislation would increase the number of debilitating medical conditions that qualify for the Texas Compassionate Use Program. According to a KENS5 report, Texas would become the 34rd state to allow medical marijuana for patients that qualify, Menéndez’s office said said that Senate Bill 90 would allow doctors to treat medical cannabis like any other medicine. “Doctors, not politicians, should determine what is best for Texas patients,” Menéndez said in a statement. “Studies have proven that cannabis is a legitimate medicine that can help a variety of Texans including, individuals suffering from opioid addiction, veterans coping with PTSD, cancer patients, and people on the autism spectrum.” “Texas should provide real relief for our suffering patients. Patients should not be arrested for using a medicine that is legal in every state that borders Texas, including conservative states like Oklahoma and Arkansas.” “The legislature must act and provide medical freedom to those who need it this most.” Menéndez filed medical cannabis legislation twice before, via Senate Bill 1839 in 2015 and Senate Bill 269 in 2017. He also co-authored Senate Bill 339, allowing for limited cannabis use for people with intractable epilepsy, meaning traditional medicines do not work to control the seizures. Currently, Texas is similar to states that restrict access to a high-CBD and low-THC cannabis oil. CBD does not cause euphoria (the “high”) that comes from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is THC (and not CBD) that is the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. Could something as simple as a plant be the beginning of the end for a well-respected, yet uninformed Texas governor? In response to Oklahoma’s “gone green” status, Abbott’s staff seemed unimpressed with Oklahoma’s recent decision to legalize medical cannabis since Oklahoma’s economy “is not as strong as Texas”. That’s a fair statement, but medical cannabis is not all about the money. Medical cannabis is about a state’s moral obligation to allow a patient personal control over their own healthcare choices – especially if the alternative therapy is safe, affordable and affective. More importantly, it should also be about allowing doctors the opportunity to offer alternative solutions that are proven safer and potentially more efficacious. If the argument is about Texas not being desperate for tax dollars, then let’s peek at what cannabis did for another state in 2017. Without ignoring the ridiculous numbers in Nevada, Las Vegas alone is an anomaly all by itself, so let’s just agree that “whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. Colorado, however, is more of a Texas like conservative citizen model. According to a report on tax profits for Colorado, there was more than $1.5 billion in cannabis sales, bringing in $118 million in sales tax. Colorado has 5.7 million residents while Texas has 28.7 million people (5x the people). If we use the math from Colorado, $1.5B x 5, Texans could generate up to $7.5 billion in cannabis sales with $590 million in potential tax revenue. So, if the argument truly is “Texas doesn’t need the money,” how would $590 million in additional tax revenue hurt the economy? Let’s target a few ideas: Point 1: Texas Education Colorado: In a WalletHub National Ranking for State School Systems, Colorado ranked 14th out of 51 (50 states and British Columbia). The state brought in around $14 million in cannabis-related tax dollars for education and public health. Texas: National Ranking, 34th. According to Austin NBC affiliate, KXAN, the Austin Independent School District faces a $30 million budget shortfall for the 2018-2019 school year, and looks to cut funds. If Texas had a cannabis tax revenue like Colorado, it could be worth $70 million per year for education – a very hefty fix to a troubled school system. Point 2: Mental Health and Addiction Colorado: The Department of Human Services used $32 million of cannabis-related taxes for substance abuse, mental health, youth marijuana-use prevention, and treatment services. Texas: According to Mental Health America Statistics, Texas ranks 18th in mental illness and dependence issues. In the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, Texas ranks 3rd for the most registered homeless people. Couldn’t Texas use a potential ($32M x 5x the population) $160 million in extra funds to reduce homelessness, mental health, and addiction? Speaking of homelessness, mental health and addiction, not only is cannabis well recognized for fighting cancer, reducing spastic twitching (ALS, seizures, Parkinson’s), reducing chronic pain and reducing the dependence for addictive and deadly opioids… studies have shown cannabis is very effective for reducing PTSD symptoms in veterans. In fact, San Antonio has the largest PTSD research program in the world, known as STRONG STAR (South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma And Resilience) at Brooke Army Medical Center, in partnership with UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. However, the program cannot legally access cannabis for research because Texas is not cannabis-legal for PTSD. Estimates indicate that 100,000 to 300,000 veterans deployed in 2018 are at significant risk for chronic PTSD. With that said, in 2013, the VA released a study that covered suicides from 1999 to 2010, which showed that roughly 22 veterans were dying by suicide per day, or one every 65 minutes. Some sources suggest that this rate may be undercounting suicides. So that leads me to another question? Why does Texas think it has the right or power to restrict access to medical cannabis as an alternative therapy to prescription drugs when, according to CDC reports, the number one cause for accidental death in the U.S. is prescription drug overdose? In fact, contrary to popular belief, studies now show that alcohol and opioids are classified as the number one gateway drug to heroin – not cannabis. And according to the CDC, the latest statistics on opioid overdose fatalities is at an all time high of 115-119 Americans each and every day. Special note: Cannabis has never killed anyone because you cannot overdose on cannabis. Point 3: Infrastructure and Law Enforcement Another $16.5 million grouped under the construction/local category paid for affordable housing, local construction, and a local government retail marijuana impact grant in Colorado. Law enforcement, public safety, and transportation got $2.7 million to prevent marijuana-impaired driving. Additionally, local law enforcement collected $5.9 million to combat illegal markets. With the San Antonio to Austin corridor being the fastest growing real-estate market in the US, ya think we could use more funds to keep the 35 open and flowing? These are common sense solutions to very politically charged problems. Regardless if “Texas is too conservative to look at cannabis as a medicine rather than a drug” – the fact remains that 90 percent of republican constituents approve the compassionate use act for medical use. At some point, legalization is going to become a matter of “when”, not “if.” The United States of Marijuana As of the November 2018 Midterms, the real big winner was legalizing Cannabis in several new “green states”.