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HB 1535 could help Texans find relief

By Megan Wehring 

Jax Finkel watched a close friend take prescription after prescription to ease the pain of Becker Muscular Dystrophy (BMD), yet the dozens of pills were only causing more suffering. Using cannabis as treatment allowed him to be present with his family and become an advocate for his fellow patients with the time he had left.

“He reminds me why patients should have more control over their medical decisions and therapies with the guidance of their doctors,” said Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, a pro-marijuana organization, “why qualifying conditions essentially pick winners and losers by leaving patients behind and how much a plant could empower an extremely ill person.”

On Sept. 1, Texans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and any stage of cancer will qualify under the state’s Compassionate Use Program for medical marijuana. There are 6,698 patients listed in the medical marijuana registry, according to a report by the Texas Department of Public Safety in June 2021, while there are only 348 physicians approved to prescribe low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannabis through the program. 

“Not many doctors are familiar with THC and its benefits,” said Dr. Zulfigar Shah. “It’s still a taboo subject for a lot of physicians. They don’t talk about medical marijuana [in medical school]. When you have a brand new doctor right out of med school, they are afraid of prescribing something like this. Even though they shouldn’t be, it’s because they weren’t taught and they didn’t open their minds to doing more research.”

Shah is a board-certified and medical cannabis physician at Texas THC Doctor located in Seguin. Because there are only 348 registered physicians in the state, Shah does treat patients who travel out of town to his clinic. Hays County only has one physician that can prescribe low-THC cannabis.

PTSD patients can finally be eligible for alternative medication, Jude Prather of the Hays County Veteran Services Offices said. 

“I’m glad our veterans are going to have access to a natural herbal medicine that can help alleviate their pain and suffering,” Prather said. 

Some advocates, like Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood), said House Bill 1535 is incomplete.

“It’s a meaningful improvement to our existing medical cannabis laws,” Zwiener said. “However, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The House version of the bill would have also included chronic pain and stripped out unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles. I’m grateful we made some progress but disappointed we didn’t go further to ensure access for all Texans who can benefit from medical cannabis.

The legislation was originally written to include chronic pain under the eligible conditions and raise the cap on THC level from 0.5% to 5%. But the Senate stripped those provisions and lowered the new THC limit to 1%. 

“An increase in THC percentage means a reduction in the amount of carrier oil,” Finkel explained, “which will make for more effective medicine while [also]decreasing the cost of medicine for patients. Since Texas must make all changes through the legislature at this time, this means patients’ and doctors’ hands are tied for another two years till the legislature meets.”

The state of Texas only has three dispensing organizations: Fluent Cannabis Care, Compassionate Cultivation and Goodblend. To participate in the Compassionate Use Program, a patient must get a prescription from a registered doctor and then they can make a purchase from one of the licensed dispensaries for either a pick up or delivery. 

About Author

Megan Navarro (formerly Wehring) graduated from Texas State University in May 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. In June 2020, she started a summer internship at the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch through the Dow Jones News Fund and Texas Press Association. She then earned her way to a reporter position later that summer and now, she serves as the editor of the newspaper. Working for a small publication, Navarro wears multiple hats. She has various responsibilities including managing a team of reporters, making editorial decisions, overseeing social media posts, fact checking, writing her own articles and more. Navarro has a heart for storytelling and she believes that journalists are equipped to share the stories that are important to the community.

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