AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill was filed Tuesday in the Texas House of Representatives that would expand the use of medical marijuana for Texans with "debilitating medical conditions."
House Bill 1365 was filed by Texas State Representative Eddie Lucio III (D-Bronwsville).
The bill allows patients to use certain amounts of medical cannabis for conditions like cancer, autism, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Under this bill, patients could use cannabis products through vaporization, oils, salves, or lotions, but not through smoking.
"Currently, 33 states allow some form of medical cannabis," Lucio said in a release. "States that do allow the use of medical cannabis collect both state and local taxes. Collecting these taxes would have a vital impact on our economy."
In a post about this bill, Lucio said this bill builds on his previous effort to pass marijuana legislation in 2017 (HB2107, which ultimately did not become law). Lucio explained this new bill is more inclusive for people with a wide range of conditions.
Under the "compassionate use" law passed in Texas in 2015, only Texans with intractable epilepsy are allowed to use small amounts of low THC CBD oil. THC is the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
Texans like Mike Thompson say they've been waiting for change like this, Thompson is a four-time cancer survivor who still experiences chronic pain as a result of the surgeries and treatments he went through.
"I endured over 75 surgeries, had two bone marrow transplants and a twelve-and-a-half hour facial reconstruction," Thompson explained.
When the cancer treatments ended, Thompson was prescribed traditional painkillers and became dependent on them.
"I feel like cancer took five to six years of my life and being on pain meds took an additional five to six years of my life," Thompson said.
He began researching other ways to cope with chronic pain, Thompson estimates he has spent hundreds of hours reading about cannabis products like CBD oil. He'd like to use CBD oil to see if it makes a difference with his symptoms post-cancer, and he thinks it might be helpful to other Texans as they fight cancer.
"The way I see it, there's no moral, ethical or scientific reason why our state lawmakers-- our elected political heroes — should not come together in a bipartisan way to expand the compassionate use act," Thompson said. "To not only continue to help people with intractable epilepsy but with cancer, Crohn's disease, and any spastic related illnesses so that we can ensure that the highest possible amount of Texans can be helped by this medicine."
Since his cancer remission, Thompson has become an advocate in helping others navigate the disease.
"I don't see this as a partisan issue," he said. "It's very black and white. People need help and elected officials have the means to do it."
Some marijuana policy advocates are particularly excited about Representative Lucio's bill.
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said she's heard from people around the state like Thompson who are looking for alternatives to potentially addictive painkillers.
"If a patient has a debilitating medical condition, they should have the freedom to try cannabis if it can help them," she said.
She noted that this year there are already 27 marijuana-related pieces of legislation filed in Texas -- a record-setting amount for the state. Some of that legislation would help to regulate hemp products like CBD oil in Texas, she said.
Fazio also believes ideas like the ones in this bill are receiving more and more bipartisan support in Texas.
"What we're seeing is lawmakers understanding because of the personal stories being told from the constituents in their district," she said.
"I think some of our biggest hurdles are still a lot of the fear people have in talking about this, whether it's talking about Crohn's disease or a loved one who is illegally using cannabis to treat the symptoms of cancer," Fazio added.
The Sheriffs' Association of Texas, however, did not seem as excited about this legislation, sending KXAN the following statement:
"The Sheriffs’ Association of Texas does not support the further legalization of marijuana in the state. In our efforts to keep the peace, deputy sheriffs routinely encounter persons who appear highly intoxicated on marijuana or marijuana-edible products. These individuals are generally a danger to themselves, and when driving, they are clearly a danger to others. The SAT does not support House Bill 1365 (2019)." - Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner, Legislative Committee, Sheriffs' Association of Texas
To be clear, Fazio said this bill would not legalize adult use of marijuana, but rather would only legalize the use of medical cannabis for people with certain conditions.
Fazio explained that for someone to access medical cannabis under this law, "a patient would have to have a debilitating medical condition and a doctor who certifies them through the state registry."
KXAN called multiple Republican lawmakers about this bill to get their thoughts and most said because it was so new they hadn't formed an opinion on it yet.
Texas State Representative Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) said he doesn't know where he stands on the bill yet. “I would have to look into the wording of the bill,” he said. “I think more and more people are open to the idea for sure.”
Krause noted that back in 2015, he thought he would be opposed to the compassionate use law, but ultimately wound up voting for it after doing his own research.
"I look forward to talking to Representative Lucio about it," Krause said. "He’s always very well-prepared he always knows his material, that goes a long way. I have no doubt he’s gonna put on a hard full-court press to try and get this done."
To date, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana for medical uses, though the agency says it is willing to work with companies interested in bringing "safe, effective and quality products to market" as well as research on medicinal uses for it. The Farm Bill at the end of last year legalized hemp for industrial purposes.