AUSTIN (KXAN) — On the job, first responders have a front row seat to traumatic situations.
“On almost every single call, that call is for somebody who is having the worst day of their life,” Austin EMS Association president Selena Xie said.
For some, these daily duties can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Most people in public safety do have PTSD undiagnosed or diagnosed,” Xie said.
To combat these consequences, a long-standing, zero-tolerance policy for drug use on the job could be coming to a close for city employees.
On Monday, the Austin Public Safety Committee explored the possibility of allowing prescribed cannabis use instead of other drugs, such as the sleep-aid Ambien.
“All city employees have alternatives that don’t have such dramatic side effects,” Xie said.
This comes after House Bill 1535 became a Texas law in September. It added post-traumatic stress disorder to a list of qualifying conditions while doubling the amount of THC allowed in cannabis products from half of a percent to 1%.
Terrence Baugh is a patient advocate with goodblend, one of only three state-licensed medical dispensaries.
“In the state of Texas, they’ve put a cap on the amount of THC you can have in a product,” he said. “It’s at 1% per weight.”
Headquartered in Austin, goodblend sells non-smokable cannabis products that are cultivated in Texas.
“Depending on your level of trauma you might need more THC,” Baugh said. That’s where we push back and get really creative with our medicine, to push the limits to what that 1% can do.”
With that gray area in mind, the City of Austin is still working out a policy for expanded THC use.
“You’re not allowed to drink alcohol eight hours before a shift, so it’d be very easy to implement similar types of rules when it comes to THC,” Xie concluded.
First responders who carry firearms – such as police officers – would still be prohibited from using THC prescriptions, because of federal firearm rules.
In addition, those operating commercial motor vehicles also would not be permitted to use low-level cannabis.
For context, documents show Austin leaders reached out to 20 other cities to see how they handle prescription medical marijuana among employees.
Of the 14 that responded, only one, Boston, allows for off-duty use.
The numbers show this will become an issue for more employees and patients in Texas.
In August 2021, before the law’s expansion went on the books, more than 8,200 patients registered with the Compassionate Use Program.
In September 2021, that jumped to nearly 11,000.
As of last month, more than 19,800 patients have registered. More than double what it was before expansion, in just six months.