AUSTIN — Time is running out for a medical marijuana bill that has attracted considerable bipartisan support this legislative session.

Although the bill has nearly 80 House members from both parties signed on as co-authors, it’s still not scheduled for a vote — and Thursday is the last day for the House to consider bills originating in the House.

Patients, caregivers and parents of autistic and epileptic children gathered Monday on the south steps of the state Capitol to urge members of the House Calendars Committee to schedule a vote on HB 2107, authored by state Rep. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville. The legislation would authorize the possession, use and cultivation of cannabis by qualifying patients.

Clifford A. Deuvall, a disabled Vietnam veteran, said the group is not trying to defy state authorities by illegally using medical cannabis. They are simply trying to survive while staying in Texas, he said.

“Until the laws are changed for those of us in need, Texas will continue to incarcerate the chronically ill and their caregivers, destroying good Texas families, and driving taxpaying Texas citizens away as medical refugees,” Deuvall said.

Under the legislation, patients would need to be diagnosed with one of the conditions listed on the bill, such as cancer, epilepsy, autism and PTSD. Doctors would have to certify the diagnosis in writing and recommend, not prescribe, that cannabis be used to treat the condition. The doctors would also have to determine the appropriate ratio of cannabidiol and THC, the component of cannabis that gives users a high, for each patient and their specific medical condition.

In addition, the patient would need formal authorization from the Department of Public Safety.

The House Public Health Committee on May 2 heard testimony from about 70 supporters of the bill. Among them were parents who had moved to Colorado in order to get access to medical marijuana for their children with severe epilepsy and autism. The group had flown in for the hearing. The bill was approved in a 7-2 vote. As of the hearing, the bill had 77 co-authors.

But the Calendars Committee has until Tuesday to schedule the bill for House debate, which hold have to occur by Thursday’s deadline. If it doesn’t, the bill will be dead.

The bill’s companion, SB 269, authored by Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, has not been scheduled for a hearing.

According to a poll by the Texas Politics Project, polling and research group at the University of Texas at Austin, 83 percent of Texas voters believe that seriously ill patients should be allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes if doctors decide it is the best treatment. Currently, 29 states in the United States have laws that protect medical marijuana users from criminal penalties.

In 2015, Texas passed the Compassionate Use Act, which allows patients with epilepsy to use medical cannabis only when federally approved drugs fail. But advocates say the program has major flaws, including instructing doctors to prescribe, not recommend, cannabis. Prescribing it would put the doctors at risk of losing their license since the drug is still illegal under federal law.

The program is also flawed because it allows patients to use only cannabidiol with low amounts of THC, which is not enough to treat specific medical conditions, advocates said.

“We’ve known for quite some time that a majority of Texans support legal access to medical cannabis,” said Heather Fazio, Texas political director of Marijuana Policy Project. “We now know most House members support it, too. With more than half of them signed on as co-authors, this bill is sure to pass — if the Calendars Committee allows a vote on it.”

This article was published in the San Antonio Express-News May 8, 2017. 

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