Pubdate: Sun, 19 Jun 2016
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2016 Austin American-Statesman
Note: Letters MUST be 150 words or less
Author: Tim Eaton


Within GOP, Sentiment Appears to Be Growing to Allow More Remedies.

Is Texas ready to embrace expanding medical treatments from marijuana?

Some state elected officials - along with some eager entrepreneurs - 
would like to see more allowable uses of the controversial plant when 
the 2017 legislative session comes around.

Last session, many Capitol observers were stunned when both chambers 
passedSenate Bill 339 and Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law. The 
law - which was authored by now-departing state Sen. Kevin Eltife, 
R-Tyler, and sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth - 
allows patients who suffer from a rare form of epilepsy to be treated 
legally with cannabidiol, or CBD as it is better known.

Cannabidiol is one of dozens of compounds found in the marijuana 
plant, but unlike its cousin tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, 
cannabidiol doesn't produce a high or sense of euphoria.

Last session, skeptical lawmakers talked about how the measure could 
represent the "camel's nose under the tent." They predicted the bill 
would lead to future efforts to broaden uses of marijuana-derived 
medical treatments  and that's what seems to be happening.

Supporters point to the 2016 State Convention of the Republican Party 
of Texas as evidence that the state's most fervent GOP voters - the 
ones who drive so much of the agenda, especially in the state Senate 
want more cannabis to be available for sale. At the convention, GOP 
loyalists approved a part of the official platform that called for a 
law to "allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to 
prescribed patients."

Notably, the platform didn't differentiate between CBD and THC treatments.

The Texas Department of Public Safety hasn't yet completed the 
process to permit the CBD businesses to get up and running. The first 
permits are scheduled to be granted in June 2017.

Among those who support expanding the law is Patrick Moran, one of 
the state's most high-profile marijuana entrepreneurs.

Moran, a lawyer and businessman, is working to open a cannabis 
growing operation and CBD dispensary in the North Texas town of 
Gunter, where he is retrofitting an old cotton gin.

"The potential is there," Moran told the American-Statesman.

Moran estimates there are 150,000 potential and previously diagnosed 
clients in Texas, which means CBD could have a $900 million a year 
market in the state, he said.

Even if just 30 percent of the qualifying patients embrace CBD, Moran 
said, his business model works.

"I could build multigenerational wealth and build a legacy" under 
current conditions, he said.

Heather Fazio, the Texas political director of the Marijuana Policy 
Project, said her organization has put together an estimate of the 
number of people who could benefit from medical marijuana. Using 
Colorado's medical program as a guide, a comprehensive medical 
marijuana law in Texas - which would allow for all levels of THC and 
CBD that could treat many medical conditions - could treat about 
565,000 patients.

Adam Bierman, CEO of the Los Angeles-based marijuana management and 
consulting firm MedMen, said Texas is well-positioned for the 
evolution of a robust medical marijuana industry.

"There will be a real industry there," he said. "A new industry will be built."

State law will expand beyond the narrow use of CBD as soon as 
lawmakers understand the will of the voters, he said.

"I'm confident that will happen sooner than later," Bierman said.

Bierman, though, isn't as bullish as Moran about the immediate 
future. He said the marijuana industry in Texas isn't viable yet. And 
until it is, MedMen, which will be available to run day-to-day 
operations at dispensaries and marijuana grow houses, will have to 
stand ready to help grow the industry when it matures a bit more.

Bierman said the market will be primed after legislators allow a full 
spectrum of medical cannabis. State lawmakers also must tweak the law 
to allow doctors to "recommend" medical marijuana, not "prescribe" 
it, as the current law says, because marijuana is still illegal in 
the federal government's eyes and cannot be prescribed.

After the conditions are met, Texas could be looking at a $2 billion 
to $3 billion a year industry, said Bierman, who came up with the 
figure by applying numbers from other states with legal medical weed, 
including California and Colorado.

'Give people more freedom'

Moran said he hopes the Legislature will vote next year to allow CBD 
to treat other diseases - such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or 
ALS; chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is a 
degenerative brain disease often found in athletes; post-traumatic 
stress disorder, or PTSD; and autism.

An expansion of the current law could allow entrepreneurs in the 
legal marijuana business to multiply their earnings by an 
extraordinary amount, Moran said.

No one thinks Texas is stopping with the narrowly written CBD law, Moran said.

State Rep. Jason Isaac, a Republican from Dripping Springs, also said 
he believes cannabis-derived treatments can treat PTSD and many other 

Isaac, who co-authored the House version of the CBD bill, saw in his 
own household how tough of a sale it could be to expand laws around 
medical marijuana. His wife was staunchly opposed, but she changed 
her mind after she met with parents of children with epilepsy who 
found hope in CBD.

Isaac said he is hopeful that lawmakers will continue to accept the 
idea of cannabis-related treatments and approve an expansion of the 
law in 2017. Isaac has had conversations with Klick about filing more 
bills to allow for treatment of more diseases with marijuana-derived 
treatments, he said. Klick couldn't be reached for comment.

"We need to expand compassionate uses," Isaac said. "We need to give 
people more freedom."

'Huge economic impact'

In the Texas Senate, there might not be a stronger advocate of 
expanding the use of grass to treat illness than Sen. Jose Menendez, 
D-San Antonio. He tried - and failed - to pass a broad medical 
marijuana bill last session, but said he remains optimistic.

"I'm for medical marijuana, man," he said. "I will be refiling the 
medicinal marijuana bill."

Menendez added that he would also be supportive of any expansion of 
the current CBD law for any therapeutic uses. Veterans tell him 
frequently that they don't want to be treated with conventional drugs 
that often come with a host of side effects, such as depression, 
suicidal thoughts and gastrointestinal problems.

They don't want to break the law, but they want relief with 
treatments stemming from the marijuana plant, he said.

"They feel it's a natural substance," Menendez said. Many of them 
blame the pharmaceutical industry for keeping marijuana medical 
treatments less available, he added.

Menendez said many Texas voters are becoming more accepting of 
marijuana use for medical reasons, and they are shunning the stigma 
that marijuana had in their younger years, Menendez said.

Menendez predicted that any bills calling for expanded use of CBD 
will have a much better chance of passing than wide-reaching medical 
marijuana legislation, "especially in a conservative Legislature like ours."

"But that doesn't mean I won't try," he said.

Menendez didn't have real numbers about how much economic impact the 
medical marijuana business might have on Texas, but he told Phillip 
Martin of the progressive political website Progress Texas in an 
interview that marijuana businesses would provide a significant bump 
for the state's coffers.

"If you look at licensing we would get - the revenue we get from 
licensing - as well as the fees and taxes, it'd have a huge economic 
impact of a regulated medicinal market, which would mean billions of 
dollars to the bottom line of the state in benefits," he told Martin.

Additionally, the senator said the GOP platform "will send a message 
to leadership."

GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declined to comment about any potential 
expansion of medical marijuana law in Texas.

A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott pointed to Abbott's words during his 
signing into law of SB 339 a year ago when he reaffirmed his 
conviction to keep marijuana illegal in Texas, while allowing for CBD 
use to go forward in narrow circumstances.

"SB 339 does not open the door to marijuana in Texas. The very low 
level of THC in CBD oil does not, even if taken in large doses, give 
the user a high and has no street value," Abbott said at the time. 
"There is no recreational use for CBD oil. It will, however, provide 
healing and hope for children who are afflicted by unrelenting 
seizures caused by epilepsy."

Political risks

Even with what seems to be growing support in the Legislature, 
medical marijuana likely will continue to be a politically thorny 
topic, and many lawmakers are likely to tread lightly on the issue.

The new GOP platform and the 2015 passage of a CBD law provides a lot 
of cover for lawmakers who might have otherwise been nervous about 
marijuana-related legislation. But the loss of state Rep. David 
Simpson, R-Longview, to state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in the 
GOP primary for the state Senate seat being vacated by Eltife, the 
CBD bill's author, could complicate matters.

The loss of Simpson, whose libertarian stance on the legalization of 
marijuana contributed to his demise, could make legislators think 
twice about medical marijuana bills or even expanding the CBD law.

Still, Hughes said many conservatives remain open to the idea of 
cannabis for medical purposes, as long as there is evidence to 
support its touted benefits.

"It seems like we can have a discussion about medical use," Hughes 
said. "I think we have to proceed with great caution."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom