Attention, Texas Legislature: Cannabis is ‘serious medicine,’ say Baker Institute experts

The Texas Legislature can provide justified relief, help reduce the opioid epidemic and save the state millions of dollars by providing regulated and safe access to medical cannabis for people with demonstrated need, according to drug policy experts at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Credit: University

William Martin, the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy at the Baker Institute and director of its Drug Policy Program, and Katharine Neill Harris, the Alfred C. Glassell, III, Fellow in Drug Policy at the institute, outline their insights in a new report, “Marijuana as Medicine.” The report is one of two on marijuana legislation issued by the authors last week, along with “The Case for Marijuana Decriminalization.”

A June 2018 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll indicated that 53 percent of Texans wanted marijuana to be legalized for any purpose, at least in small amounts; 31 percent favored legalization for medical purposes only. Only 16 percent said marijuana should remain illegal under any circumstance.

In the summer of 2018, both Texas Democrats and Republicans overwhelming adopted platforms that reflect these views, the authors said. Republicans called on legislators “to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients,” and Democrats urged “the immediate legalization of medical cannabis use.”

Texas legislators have heard the call and are considering 64 cannabis bills in the current session, 17 dealing only with medical cannabis. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the chairwoman of the House Public Health Committee, created a Subcommittee on Medical Marijuana to deal with the proposals.

“To appreciate what these bills can accomplish, it is necessary to understand what makes cannabis serious medicine, not just a stage on the road to full legalization of a recreational drug,” the authors wrote. Their report provides an overview of the “endocannabinoid system” in the human body, which exists to maintain homeostasis by “keeping things on an even keel by offering relief from pain, reduction of inflammation, control of nausea, uplift from depression and anxiety, and preventing, moderating or curing diseases,” they wrote.

The authors also discuss marijuana’s proven or promising therapeutic potential in treating intractable epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and chronic pain and opioid use disorder. In addition, they address some of the apprehensions and objections raised by opponents, skeptics and “even people simply worried about increased legal use of a long-maligned drug,” they wrote.

Several of the bills before the Texas Legislature follow a recent trend of laws that allow for access to strains of marijuana that are high in CBD, the nonpsychoactive compound touted for its medical properties, but contain little or no THC, the component that causes a “high,” the authors said. These laws have attracted support, particularly in Southern states, because they are seen as a way to provide patients with some of the main medicinal qualities of the marijuana plant but without any psychoactive effects.

A key drawback of CBD-only laws is that they typically place strict limits on the number and types of qualifying medical conditions, the authors said. In 2015, Texas passed the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), which allows people with intractable epilepsy to access low-THC CBD oil, but that law has been criticized for its narrow scope.

Several bills introduced this session are attempts to expand the CUA. The two drawing the most attention are House Bill 1365, authored by Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, and Senate Bill 90, authored by Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, the authors said.

“Though differing in some respects, both add substantially to the number of diseases or conditions that qualify for treatment, remove the cap on the amount of THC that can be legally dispensed or possessed, and provide detailed regulation of dispensaries and testing facilities, and myriad other details that are necessary parts of the lawmaking process,” the authors wrote.

“Parents of children with Dravet syndrome or autism may know that cannabis poses a risk for brains not fully formed, but few would deny their children access to plant-derived medicine whose safety and efficacy are attested to by abundant anecdote, proven by scientific research and sensibly regulated in legal regimes,” the authors concluded.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.