AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The state of Texas is one step closer to expanding its medical cannabis program. The Texas Senate approved House Bill 3703, filed by State Rep. Stephanie Klick, 31-0 Wednesday.
If the legislation reaches Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk and is passed into law, it will expand the state’s 2015 Texas Compassionate Use Program that currently serves Texas patients with intractable epilepsy.
State Sen. Donna Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican, sponsored the bill in the Texas Senate. She and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee amended the bill to include terminal cancer, autism, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizure disorders and incurable neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s Disease.
“It’s about compassion,” Campbell said. “This is a success for those patients that we think at this point, medical cannabis, CBD oil, will help. It is not about, ‘is this a panacea to help cure the disease process?’ It’s about ‘will this CBD oil help alleviate pain, help alleviate spasticity, help alleviate some of the muscular problems that people can have?’ We don’t have great data, but there’s a lot of case studies and I hope it helps.”
Just last week, former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jay Novacek and his wife, Amy Novacek, urged lawmakers to pass this bill. Their son, Blake Novacek, was injured during a fraternity hazing incident at the University of Oklahoma and was left with a traumatic brain injury.
“He can’t work,” Amy said last week after testifying at the committee hearing. “He cannot go to school now because of that and because he does not have the medical cannabis. He has no quality of life. What is that for a 22-year-old who used to have the world by the tail? Because of his assault, his life is moving from the bed to the chair and possibly the kitchen. He does and can, medicated highly on opioids, go to a Cowboys game, but he suffers severely and will be in bed for a week afterward.”
The Novaceks hope that the low-THC CBD oil can help with his ongoing pain and almost daily seizures.
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, praised the bill in a statement but also said the legislation fell short of what the organization was hoping for.
“We are grateful for Sen. Donna Campbell’s leadership and the expanded access this bill offers, but so many patients are still being left behind and this proposal does little to fix problems with the existing program, like the lack of independent, third-party testing and arbitrary dosing restrictions.”
Fazio noted that since the Texas Compassionate Use Program began in 2015, only around 700 patients have been able to use CBD oil as a treatment, in part because of the state requirement that patients needed approval from two registered specialists, Fazio said.
She added that Campbell’s version of the bill only requires approval from one registered specialist.
One of the conditions that some groups and lawmakers wanted to be included in the bill was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, Campbell said it wasn’t included because it’s an area that needs more scientific studies.
The bill maintains Texas’ current dose restriction at .5 percent THC and the Texas Department of Public Safety would still maintain regulation and oversight of the program.
Parents from the group Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism also breathed a sigh of relief after the vote.
“In all honesty, we’ve learned that a higher percent of THC is what really works to treat these kids,” said Debbie Tolany, a mother in this group. “We really would’ve liked to see it go up to one percent, but we’ll still count this as a small victory.”
Members of the group also hope to come back in 2021 to advocate for adding more conditions to the bill.
“It’s been really difficult to watch other patients struggle who could benefit from medical cannabis and know that we have to consider ourselves as lucky because we just happen to have the right diagnoses,” said Terri Carriker, another mother in the group. “There are so many other patients that deserve to have the same compassion that our kids have.”
During the floor debate in the Texas Senate, State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, had a lengthy discussion with Campbell about prescribing authority.
“In this case, because of the nature of the precedent that we’re setting and the potential direction this may take with a future legislature, I don’t want to see this bill to turn into a scope of practice battle between doctors of these specialties and nurse practitioners under these specialties,” he said.
Campbell reassured Birdwell no one practicing outside the medical specialties would be able to prescribe the treatment.
“This bill specifically lists the physician has to be the one to prescribe the CBD oil, not nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants or anyone else that the physician supervises,” she said.
She also affirmed this bill doesn’t aim to move the state toward legalizing recreational use of marijuana.
“Hopefully it does provide compassion where it’s needed and gives us an opportunity going forward to collect more data,” Campbell said.
Another bill, HB 1365, aims to expand low-THC cannabis access to an even wider variety of patients, including those with cancer, Crohn’s disease, and PTSD. But this bill has passed in the House but has not made it out of the Senate Health and Human Services committee, and with only a few days remaining in the Texas legislature, the odds of it becoming law are slim.