Op-Ed: Texas Senate Shouldn’t Call it Cannabis Reform

In November 2020, there were nine different articles of marijuana legislation filed. That set the expectation that 2021 was going to be a landmark year for medical cannabis reform in the state of Texas. Moreover, it created hope for patients with chronic health conditions that change was coming.

Because change is needed, Texas has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs. It can barely be credited with offering medical cannabis to patients because of the restrictions from low-THC cap to one of the most restrictive lists of qualifying health conditions. Nevertheless, Texas civil leaders and some religious and law enforcement groups want to maintain an iron grip on prohibition.

What else could you call it but prohibition now? Bills that successfully passed the Texas House of Representatives were slammed in the Texas Senate. Even though recent polls report, more than 68% of Texans want fully legalized marijuana. A medical and recreational or adult-use program. Similar to surrounding states like Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Today the local media in Texas is reporting the concessions generously given by the Senate to accommodate patients better. This is misleading. There were no significant concessions and so much potential for the Texas Senate to create change. They opted instead for placating the bare minimum. Less than minimum compared to thirty-five other states. And that has residents with chronic health problems like me, disappointed, frustrated, and angry.

A Texan and a Diabetic Looking at Better Alternatives Than Opioids  

I have hereditary Diabetes.  I was diagnosed at the age of thirty-four years.  And for much of my life, I have struggled to manage my glucose levels. I am not insulin-dependent (yet), but I have already experienced many frightening and painful aspects of my chronic disease.

Diabetic neuropathy is part of my daily life. Sometimes, when I am very physically active, the neuropathy in my feet disappears for now. Of course, that may not always be the case, and I know that. But when the symptoms of neuropathy strike, everything becomes more difficult.

Walking (without tripping) can be challenging. Focus can be difficult. Imagine the sensation of a million ants biting your feet and toes at the same time? Right now, it is not persistent enough to warrant a daily medication for the pain. When I take pain medication to reduce the sensations, it makes me feel nauseous, tired, and fuzzy-headed. Prescription medications also mess with my blood sugar management, my mood, and my digestive tract. They also leave me feeling like I have a hangover.

I had a parent who struggled with opioid addiction her whole life.  She’s now been clean for over six years. But I watched the damage that opioid medications did to her mind and body. I only take pain medication after everything else won’t work. Like ice packs, exercise and yoga, and lots of water. Or a thirty-minute nap on my lunch break. Medical cannabis could help. It’s not an option for me.

Learning About Cannabis and the Potential to Relieve Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy

I have visited states that legalized recreational cannabis.  Although I have lived in Texas for seven years, I have not qualified for a medical card. And even if I did, the 0.5% THC would be unlikely to provide relief.  

How do I know this? Because I tried 10% THC while visiting recreational states (Nevada and California), and could still feel the pain. But when I tried 15%, the pain was gone.  And I felt happy, energetic, and mobile again. I was free from being preoccupied with my neuropathic pain.  Because, of course, it would flare up on a trip.

Ask someone with chronic pain what it feels like, that moment when the pain is gone. It is euphoric. You almost don’t trust it, expecting waves of pain to return at any moment. But I can tell you that it feels like freedom. And it feels like your humanity and your independence are restored. You just needed a little help to make the pain back off so that you could be yourself again.

Coming from Canada, where cannabis is federally legalized, the prohibition in Texas is shocking. I realize that the sociopolitical culture here in the Lonestar State is very different. But, as a patient advocate, I know my story is not unique. There are tens of thousands of Texans like me looking for better alternatives—safer ways to manage symptoms that disrupt their daily life.

I am part of the estimated 68% of Texas that would like an actual medical cannabis program.

Texas Senate Unsurprisingly Succeeds in Disappointing Patients With Legislation

The House of Representatives in Texas approved several measures, which would have created slow but steady changes. However, no one expects Texas to move quickly when it comes to cannabis legal reform. Including decriminalization of cannabis for personal use.

But the House of Representatives had approved an increase of the low-THC cap on medicinal cannabis from 0.5% to 5%. Still too low for most patients, particularly those with chronic pain. At the start of the 2021 legislative session, sixty (60) articles of legislation for marijuana reform in Texas. 

The Senate approved the measure to increase the maximum potency; to 1%. And while the House approved adding chronic pain to the qualifying health conditions? The Senate in Texas said no. Thus, shutting out patients with degenerative back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic migraines, and people struggling with neuropathic pain daily.

The CDC estimates that more than 2.3 million Texans live with Diabetes or about 1 in 20 adults under 35 years. And 1 in 4 Texans over the age of 65. Like this story shared about Viridiana Edwards, a 33-year-old veteran living in Texas and living with excruciating pain every day of her life that is unresolved by prescription medications.

Texas marijuana doctors

Can Marijuana Reform Be Placed on the State Ballot?

Texas is only one of 24 states in America, which does not have “initiative and referendum.”  And that makes it complicated to move ahead on sweeping changes to the reform cannabis laws in Texas.

Signatures alone are not enough to get a state question for a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The Texas State Legislature has to approve and propose the amendment and a joint resolution between the House of Representatives and the Senate. And the resolution has to be adopted by a vote of at least two-thirds of each legislative body. That means 100 votes in favor of changing cannabis laws in the Texas House of Representatives and twenty-one (21) votes in the Senate.  There are thirty-one (31) seats in the Texas Senate, with a current Republican majority.

Because Texas doesn’t have initiative and referendum, there is no way to propose changes to the constitutional amendment. Or to bypass the House and Senate majority to put the marijuana reform on the next electoral ballot.

What will happen next is an organized effort by grassroots organizations to change at the municipal level. Jurisdictions like Austin and Dallas have already started in that direction. Law enforcement has agreed to stop using resources to test and arrest people found with personal use amounts.  And more communities are likely to follow that lead across the state.

The next step will be to inform voters to persuade House of Representatives and Senate members about the importance of cannabis reform in Texas. And this is where your voice as a patient, caregiver, or advocate can help bring about cannabis reform in Texas.

How You Can Help

If you are a Texas resident and advocate for patients and access to medical marijuana, get involved. Your voice, opinion, and support can help Texas achieve a true medical cannabis program. One that helps patients cope with symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Volunteer and get involved with one or more of the organizations working hard to effect legal reform. Here is a list of some of the most active organizations looking for volunteers to help collect signatures, organize and present patient stories to leaders in Texas.

·         Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP)

·         Texas NORML (Austin)

·         Students for Sensible Drug Policy

·         Marijuana Policy Project

·         Green Party of Texas

We want to hear your comments! If you live in Texas, are you for or against cannabis reform of the current prohibition of medical cannabis? What diagnoses do you think should be added to the qualifying health conditions for medical marijuana in Texas?

Leave us a comment! Join the conversation on AskMarijuanaDoctors.com. 

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