Senators, representatives discuss benefits of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes


Courtesy of The Texas Tribune

Alaska, California and Colorado are among the few states in the U.S. where cannabis is fully legal.

While Texas has recently emerged as both a battleground state and a possible purple state, Texans are generally conservative in many political and economic issues. One issue the Republican-led Texas House and Senate have abstained from deeply exploring is the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana.

At this year’s Texas Tribune Festival, the Tribune’s Alex Samuels moderated “Stirring the Pot,” a panel discussing the importance and potential of legalizing medical marijuana with some of the state government’s top cannabis champions. The panelists included Reps. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, and Sens. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, and Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio.

In 2015, Klick authored Senate Bill 339, now known as the Texas Compassionate Use Act, which allowed physicians to prescribe low-THC cannabis oil to patients suffering from intractable epilepsy.

In this year’s legislative season, the Texas Senate was able to pass a bill authored by Klick and sponsored by Campbell that expanded the Compassionate Use Program to cover more medical conditions including all forms of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and terminal cancer.

“When you look at it four years ago, we had nothing […] we started with nothing,” Campbell said. “Now for the past two sessions, we’ve passed two bills that can actually help somewhere around about a million people in Texas that have chronic conditions.”

All panelists are proponents of research-backed policy, but there are setbacks as cannabis is a schedule I drug in the U.S.

“…Which is ridiculous,” Menendez said. “We have that research. It’s just not done in the U.S. It’s been done in Israel. It’s also been done in Germany, it’s been done in Europe.”

For now, it is a matter of relaying marijuana’s medical qualities to Congress.

Because of the lack of research and data in our country, proponents of medical marijuana like Klick and Campbell have turned to arguments based on compassion and heart. But for some, this is not enough.

“If they [patients] come in and they test positive for THC, then they can’t have anything, so where’s the compassion in that?,” Menendez said. “You leave them out in the cold to just get through their shakes. We can do better.”

In terms of public opinion, more than half of the state’s registered voters believe marijuana should be legalized in the state. As Menendez stated, 81% of Texans support expansion of current medical laws for cannabis.

The next step the legislators hope to take in expanding medical marijuana is to cover those suffering from PTSD.

Campbell’s original bill this session was broad enough to cover PTSD and traumatic brain injury, but was shot down in the Senate due to lack of research. Lucio and Menendez both introduced bills that would expand the coverage to include PTSD. While Menendez’s bill didn’t get a hearing, Lucio’s passed the House but died when the Senate refused to debate it.

As for the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana, the legislators don’t see that happening anytime soon. Campbell and Klick publicly oppose the use of recreational marijuana and Menendez stated that he doesn’t want to shift the focus from medicinal purposes.

“I don’t want to put at risk expansion of medical cannabis,” Menendez said.

Expanding the Compassionate Use Act will be at the top of the list for these legislators in the next session.

“I believe in the good in people, but there’s far too often when politics trumps compassion,” Lucio said. “The only way to change the politics on this is advocacy.”