Pubdate: Thu, 10 Aug 2017
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 2017 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Author: Alex Samuels


In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the first bill allowing any growing
or sale of marijuana in Texas. The Texas Compassionate Use Act
legalized the selling of a specific kind of cannabis oil derived from
marijuana plants for a very small group of customers: epilepsy
patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.

Two years later, Texans still can't legally buy cannabis oil, but a
handful of companies believe they are weeks away from receiving the
official go-ahead to become the state's first sellers.

But even if those approvals go through, it'll still be some time
before any Texans will be able to buy what they're selling.

The three eligible dispensaries -- Surterra Texas, Cansortium Texas
and Compassionate Cultivation -- are waiting on the final stamp of
approval from the Texas Department of Public Safety to begin growing
and distributing marijuana. The agency has until Sept. 1 to do so
under the 2015 law.

That could put cannabis oil on the market by January, 2 1/2 years
after Abbott signed a law legalizing it, according to some potential

"Let's say that we get our final license on Sept. 1. Only after that
point will we be able to start growing marijuana," said Morris Denton,
the CEO for Compassionate Cultivation, which is planning a dispensary
in the Austin area. "Once we start growing, it's going to take about
four months before we're ready to dispense medicine because of the
extraction and testing process the plant has to go through after it's
been harvested."

Dispensaries like Compassionate Cultivation will only be able to sell
to a small percentage of Texans under the narrow 2015 law, which
allows for the sale of oils with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol
(THC), the psychoactive element in marijuana, and high levels of
cannabidiol (CBD), a non-euphoric component known to treat epilepsy
and other chronic medical conditions.

Supporters have praised the Texas law as a historic shift in the
state's policy related to marijuana. But some critics have argued that
the THC and CBD levels Texas has legalized are still too low to help
many epilepsy patients and provides no help for others who could be
helped by medical marijuana in other forms.

"Texas took a very narrow, specific approach focused on epilepsy
patients only -- which is indicative of the state," said Adam Sharon,
the communications director for Cansortium Texas, which is planning a
dispensary in Fayette County between Houston and Austin. (The third
dispensary, Surterra Texas, did not respond to a request for comment.)

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico now
allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis
programs, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
Texas is one of 17 states to pass a law allowing for the use of "low
THC, high CBD" products for medical reasons in limited situations.

"We were very disappointed in how unreasonably restrictive the
Compassionate Use Act was written," said Heather Fazio, a spokesperson
for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. "We're grateful it was
intended for some people to have access to some type of cannabis, but
science shows [medical marijuana] can help countless Texans suffering
from PTSD, multiple sclerosis and severe pain."

Texas began accepting applications for dispensing organizations in
March. Two months later, DPS announced it had selected three
applicants out of the 43 that applied to receive preliminary licenses
as dispensing organizations.

Denton said his business is waiting to complete a "fairly substantial
inspection report" from the DPS before his dispensary will get the
approval needed to begin growing and cultivating marijuana. The report
is an 18-page document requiring each dispensary to verify the
facility's lease and permits from local fire marshals, among other
things, he said.

"The inspections will confirm the applicant's' compliance with the
safety, security, cultivation and processing requirements," a
spokesperson for the DPS wrote in an emailed statement to the Tribune.

The House sponsor of the Compassionate Use Act, state Rep. Stephanie
Klick, R-Fort Worth, said in an interview in the Capitol Wednesday
that she expected the first dispensaries would be "up and running" by
Sept. 1 and that she's visited with "a few of the vendors." When asked
why the dispensaries have not received final approval from the state,
Klick said she hadn't heard about that.

Advocates, however, said they believe the state's slow pace for the
past two years reflects a larger issue.

"These folks [at DPS] haven't known anything other than putting people
in jail for cannabis, and now, all of sudden, they have to learn about
this plant, establish best practices and execute the rollout," Fazio
said. "That's a lot to do in a little more than two years."

Emmanuel Garza moved his family last year from Sullivan City, near the
border, to Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, in order
to be able to purchase CBD oil and other medical products derived from
marijuana to treat his daughter's seizures. He said he pays nearly
$200 for a 100-milliliter bottle of CBD oil, which he said lasts
almost a year since she takes such a small dosage.

Denton said there remain too many variables to know how much his Texas
dispensary will charge eligible patients for cannabis oil.

"You may have one doctor that prescribes a certain dosing and then
another that prescribes a different dosing," Denton said. "[The price]
will pivot off of what a price per gram of the CBD oil will be and
then how that gets delivered through different products."

Shannon Najmabadi contributed reporting to this story.
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