Despite concerns from some lawmakers that they were taking the first step toward legalizing marijuana, the Texas House tentatively approved a bill Monday that would allow epilepsy patients in Texas to use medicinal oils containing a therapeutic component found in the plant.
On a 96-34 vote, the House passed Senate Bill 339, from state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, which would legalize oils containing CBD, a non-euphoric component of marijuana known to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions. If the House gives final passage in a follow-up vote, the measure will be Gov. Greg Abbott’s to sign, veto or allow to become law without his signature. If it becomes law, the state would be able to regulate and distribute the oils to patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.
Before the vote, state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s House sponsor, repeatedly stressed to House members that the product she was trying to legalize should not be confused with marijuana.
“It is also not something you can get high on. It has a low risk of abuse,” Klick said. “This is not something that can be smoked. It is ingested orally.”
Texas is one of 16 states where marijuana is illegal for medical and recreational use. In recent years, 13 states have legalized CBD oil for certain medical conditions. Twenty-three other states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing broader medical marijuana use.
At an April hearing of the House Committee on Public Health, supporters recounted the seizures endured by children who they say could benefit from derivatives of medical marijuana. But opponents, including representatives of law enforcement agencies, expressed concerns that increased access to any component of marijuana would jeopardize public safety and lead to increased recreational use of marijuana throughout the state.
Several Republican lawmakers brought up those concerns during the House floor debate. At one point, over the shouts of House members booing, state Rep. Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, yelled, “This is a bad bill.”
State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and a House sponsor of the bill along with Klick, responded: “It is not a bad bill. It is a great bill, and it is going to save lives.”
The bill requires the state to regulate the distribution of the medication, directing the Texas Department of Public Safety to license at least three dispensing organizations by Sept. 1, 2017, provided that at least that many applicants have met the state’s requirements. Klick said on the House floor that the dispensaries would function similar to compounding pharmacies. Under the bill, only a neurologist or epileptologist would be able to prescribe CBD oil.
State Rep. David Simpson, a Longview Republican who drew national attention this session for his efforts to decriminalize marijuana, urged House members to back SB 339.
“Many people think it’s government doing too little too late, but it is a step forward for medical freedom and personal responsibility,” Simpson said.