Articles Tagged with “medical marijuana”

2017 Held a lot of promise for marijuana reform. Texans across the state and political spectrum flooded legislator’s offices and phones with a clear and concise message, “We want marijuana law reform now.” Unfortunately, as the session ended, it became clear that the Texas legislature was deaf to the voice of the Texas people.

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The Groundwork

The push for marijuana law reform during the 85th Texas Legislative session began back in 2016, when advocacy groups focused on laying the political groundwork for marijuana law reform. Advocacy groups worked hard to amend the Texas Republican Party platform[1] to call for a complete overhaul of the Texas Compassionate use act of 2015, Texas’s anemic medical marijuana program. Advocates also hit the streets supporting and donating to pro marijuana reform candidates during the 2016 election cycle. As 2016 ended, the groundwork for real reform had been laid, and advocates across the state were optimistically looking forward to the 2017 legislative cycle.

On June 1st, 2015 Governor Greg Abbot (R, Texas) signed the “Compassionate Use Act” Offering what he said would be “healing and hope for children who are afflicted by relentless seizures caused by epilepsy. The “Compassionate Use Act” established the first medical marijuana program in Texas. That same year Georgia and Tennessee also legalized the use of medical marijuana in some form.

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At the date of writing, there are currently twenty-six states with full medical marijuana programs, and thirty-eight states that allow for some use of medical marijuana. With some much activity on the state level, and victories easier to achieve on the state level, many wonder why there is a need to worry about reforming the federal government’s marijuana laws. Unfortunately, state marijuana reform is limited; and hangs precariously in the political balance.

State Marijuana Reform, a Patchwork

Louisiana passed two medical marijuana laws in 2016 signed by Governor Bell Edwards (D-Louisiana). These two laws were SB 271[1] and SB 180[2] both authored by Sen. Fred Mills (R- District 22). These two bills established Louisiana as the 25th state to establish a comprehensive medical marijuana program. Louisiana’s history with medical marijuana, however, provides insights into the struggle to reform a medical program once a state has passed it.

First in the Nation

While it is mostly a footnote in history now, Louisiana was actually the first state in the nation to pass a medical marijuana program back in 1978. Passed only eight years after President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act, Louisiana’s original medical marijuana program, authored by Sen. Tony Guarisco (D-Morgan City) and signed by Governor Edwin Edwards (D-Louisiana) allowed patients suffering from glaucoma and cancer to use medical marijuana.

iStock_000009135835_ExtraSmallOn May 16th, 2016, the Texas GOP signaled a profound change of stance with regard to marijuana laws in Texas. Thanks to the dedicated work of many activists within the Republican Party, the State GOP adopted two resolutions with profound implications for the future of marijuana law in the Lone Star State.

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The first resolution is the most straightforward, and the least controversial step in marijuana law reform. The plank was adopted with 71% of those in favor. The resolution reads as such:

End Prohibition - Legalize Marijuana
With 2017 fast approaching and prospective state representatives competing for votes, a Texas sized problem remains unaddressed in the Texas medical marijuana program. In 2015, The Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 339 authored by Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) and Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth).[1]

SB 339, otherwise known as the Texas Compassionate Use Act, was a start on the road to marijuana reform for Texas. The bill was the first formal recognition from Texas that marijuana has medical use. The bill was inspired by Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s “weed” documentary series highlighting the efficacy of high CBD marijuana strains for treating epilepsy in children. With the combined efforts of medical activists and strong pressure from the Epilepsy Foundation, the bill passed in the waning days of the 2015 session and was signed by Governor Abbott.

Overview of The Compassionate Use Act

iStock_000011009457_ExtraSmallIn 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law SB 339 known as the Texas Compassionate Use Act. The bill authorizes DPS to implement a dispensary program to include a registry of physicians who are authorized to prescribe low levels of THC cannabis, and their patients who are receiving the medication. The online Compassionate Use Registry is expected to begin development in July 2016. DPS will also provide licenses to dispensaries for regulated cultivation, operation, and dispensation of cannabis. Acceptance of licensing applications begin in June 2017, and at least three dispensaries can receive a license by September 2017.  There is no limit to the number of distributors who can receive a license.

The program is strictly limited to qualified patients, regardless of age, diagnosed with intractable epilepsy. This means that a patient must be a permanent resident of Texas, and have tried at least two FDA-approved medications in the past that have not alleviated seizures. The law also requires that two physicians determine  that the medical use of prescribed, low-THC cannabis will benefit the patient. Low-THC is defined as marijuana that contains 10% or more cannabidiol (CBD, a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis) and no more than .5% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis). The availability of cannabis will be in the form of oils so smoking cannabis will remain illegal under state and federal law. Neither DPS nor another State agency will regulate the cost of cannabis which means prices will be based on a market-based system. For more FAQs, see DPS’s website.

Although this is a historical step for Texas, implementation of the program could delay if medical doctors shy away from prescribing medical marijuana or are slow to implement guidelines in their practice. More Texans will need access to medical marijuana if the legislature wants to help other citizens who want to use cannabis for health reasons. Research has shown that cannabidiol can alleviate the ailments of those suffering from arthritis, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

iStock_000013348762_ExtraSmall.jpgA strong majority of Texans support marijuana legalization according to public policy polling, which revealed Texan support at 58%. With some grass roots indications that Texas is ready to legalize marijuana, many question how legalization could affect the overall public heath of Texas residents. With alcohol abuse and its devastating consequences remaining a major issue in Texas, some people worry marijuana could add to the problem. Researchers have long been trying to figure out whether marijuana legalization would lead to more alcohol consumption (if the drugs are complementary) or if legalization would actually reduce alcohol use (if marijuana is a substitute for alcohol). Finally, there seems to be an answer. It is thought that marijuana use usually replaces alcohol use, and since marijuana is far safer than alcohol, marijuana legalization would lead to a net gain in public health benefits due to less alcohol consumption.

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iStock_000009135835_ExtraSmall.jpgSurpassing all other countries in the world on modernization of marijuana laws, legislators in Uruguay passed a bill in December of 2013 to legalize and regulate marijuana nation-wide. Uruguay’s president voiced strong support for the bill, noting a legalized market would reduce illicit drug trade, and signed the bill into law. Uruguayans over the age of 18 may legally grow six marijuana plants, form smoking clubs of 15-45 members with a production limit of 99 plants a year, and buy up to 40 grams or 1.4 ounces each month from government-regulated retail shops. See Uruguay’s New Marijuana Laws here.

Other Latin American countries are not far behind in the movement to reform drug laws away from ineffective criminalization and toward sensible regulations. In Ecuador, lawmakers have debated a bill that would lessen the penalties associated with marijuana. The head of Argentina’s counter-narcotics agency, Juan Carlos Molina, supports debating whether Argentina should follow its neighbor Uruguay’s example.

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iStock_000011009457_ExtraSmall.jpgPresident Obama thinks marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and is less dangerous in terms of its impact on consumers. In a January 2014 interview with the New Yorker, the president compared marijuana to other vices such as alcohol and cigarettes, stating “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

While the president doesn’t find the use of marijuana alarming, he is very bothered by the fact that minorities, especially minority youth, have a radically disproportionate rate of arrest and imprisonment. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said. “African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties…we should not be locking up individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” A new study released this month supports the president’s concerns, finding that nearly half of all black males are arrested by the time they reach the age of 23.

What is even more surprising is that notoriously conservative Texas governor Rick Perry has also shown a recent liberalized attitude towards marijuana. Perry, speaking to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, defended Colorado and Washington state’s vote to legalize the drug, saying it is a matter of states’ rights. Although Perry sidestepped questions of whether he supported the decriminalization of marijuana, he promoted Texas’ drug courts, which offer treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent offenders, as an example to other states and nations.

iStock_000001725183XSmall.jpgA recent report by the Partnership at Drug Free, formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug Free America, found a solid majority of those polled by the organization itself, 52 percent, favor marijuana decriminalization and a vast majority, 70 percent, favor medical marijuana. The Partnership interviewed 1,603 adults. The majority of these adults (1,200) are parents of children who are between 10 and 19 years old. The report found 72 percent of mothers and 67 percent of fathers support medical marijuana.

One may be surprised that an organization focused on combating teenage drug use is publicizing report results showing favorable parental views on marijuana law reform. A deeper look into the results of marijuana law reform reveals that marijuana reform could help combat teenage marijuana use and thus align with the goals of the Partnership. For example, since Colorado passed marijuana laws, marijuana usage among Colorado teenagers has gone down. Colorado, probably the most marijuana friendly state in the nation, has a teenage marijuana use rate that is below the national average. Despite the beliefs of marijuana reform opponents that claim pro-marijuana laws will increase adolescent marijuana use, a recent report revealed there is no visible link between states legalizing medical marijuana and children increasing marijuana consumption.

The Partnership has had a noticeable history of focusing especially on the dangers of marijuana, even though the harms caused by alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals far outweigh the harms of marijuana use. Past funding sources of the Partnership may explain the lack of particular focus on drugs more destructive than marijuana. According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the Partnership has accepted funding from numerous tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceutical companies. These companies include the Budweiser, Michelob, Busch Beer Company: Anheuser Busch, the Marlboro and Virginia Slims company: Philip Morris, the Camel, Salem, Winston cigarettes company: R.J. Reynolds, as well as firms associated with pharmaceuticals like Bristol Meyers-Squibb, Merck & Company, and Proctor & Gamble. The Partnership reportedly ceased accepting alcohol and tobacco funding, but continues to receive support from major pharmaceutical firms, despite the fact that pharmaceutical drugs cause the most overdose deaths compared to all other drugs.