Texas’ Dopey Rules On Medical Marijuana Need A Rewrite

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Micah Jensen’s mom noticed something was wrong after his third birthday.

The little boy forgot how to go potty. He hadn’t learned many words, but his vocabulary became even more limited. He would line up his toy cars in a row and just stare at them. Then the epileptic seizures began. And he became violent, sometimes slapping his sister and throwing things at walls.

Micah, as it turned out, suffered from autism. He’s now a 12-year-old boy growing up in League City. After years of research, his mother has come to the conclusion there’s a well-known treatment that could help reduce his seizures: medicinal cannabis, also known as medical marijuana.

But besides his epilepsy, Micah has another problem. He’s a Texan.

Our state has legalized one type of medical cannabis for a limited range of patients. Three years ago, lawmakers passed and the governor signed a historic piece of legislation making Texas the 29th state permitting doctors to prescribe this drug. But as Chronicle reporter Ileana Najarro has documented in a series of stories, the law is so restrictive that medical marijuana is out of reach for countless people whose suffering could be alleviated by this relatively inexpensive drug. Our Legislature needs to revisit this issue in its next session and make medical cannabis more broadly available to Texas patients.

The Compassionate Use Act passed in 2015 legalized a specific type of cannabis for certain Texans suffering from epilepsy — cannabinoid oil, which is low in the THC chemical enjoyed by the Cheech and Chong crowd. Dispensaries finally started delivering the drug early this year. But even patients who jump through a series of legal hoops can’t necessarily get their hands on this medication.

About 500,000 Texans are epileptic, but that doesn’t mean a half-million people in the state can legally obtain marijuana. In order to qualify, they must suffer from intractable epilepsy that’s been treated by at least two other drugs that have failed to control their seizures.

They also need to get approval from two different doctors listed on what’s called the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas. Doctors who want to appear on this registry must dedicate what the law describes as “a significant portion of clinical practice to the evaluation and treatment of epilepsy.” They also have to be certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology or the American Board of Clinical Neurophysiology.

If you’re a parent whose child suffers from intractable epilepsy, good luck finding a doctor who can prescribe medical cannabis. Only 30 or so neurologists across the state are listed in that registry. None of them have practices west or south of San Antonio. So if you’re a parent with an autistic child living in El Paso, you’re hundreds of miles away from any of the two doctors you’ll need to sign off your kid’s medication.

And if you somehow manage to get a prescription, don’t bother taking it to your neighborhood Walgreen’s or CVS. The Texas Department of Public Safety has licensed only three dispensaries — two in Austin and one in Schulenberg — to sell this medicine.

Something’s wrong here. Family physicians have routinely — and notoriously — prescribed highly addictive opioids sold at neighborhood drug stores. But a lot of Texas parents can’t obtain low doses of medical marijuana to alleviate the suffering of their autistic children.

Micah Jensen doesn’t qualify for medical cannabis in Texas because of a technicality. One of the drugs he’s now taking doesn’t cure his problems, but it’s apparently helping him somewhat. Under current Texas law, that drug will have to fail completely before he can legally try cannabis. Meanwhile, he’s getting bigger and more aggressive.

His family could use some help from state legislators. In their next session, Texas legislators need to revisit the Compassionate Use Act and other marijuana laws and allow more patients like Micah access to medical cannabis under their doctors’ supervision.

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