AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas House gave final approval Tuesday to a limited medical marijuana bill that would give epilepsy patients access to cannabidiol oil (CBD). The next stop is Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, marking a milestone that marijuana-reform advocates say is nothing short of historic in Texas.
The Republican hasn’t said whether he will sign one of the most talked-about measures in his first legislative session as governor. Here’s a closer look at the plan:
WHAT DOES IT DO?
The bill, SB 339, allows patients with intractable epilepsy, whose seizures are not controlled by conventional treatments, to receive low-THC cannabis to help treat their seizures. This would likely be in the form of a cannabis oil extract (CBD oil). The low-THC cannabis could not contain more than 0.5 percent tetrahydrocannabinol — marijuana’s psychoactive component — and must have at least 10 percent cannabidiol.
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The oil could only be obtained with a prescription and would remain off-limits to patients with other medical conditions.
WHERE ELSE IS THIS ALREADY LEGAL?
Fourteen states in the past year have passed similar low-dose cannabis oil laws. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott were among the first. Republicans in those states have stressed that the oil would be strictly supervised and wouldn’t be a precursor to legalizing recreational marijuana.
IF IT’S SO LIMITED, WHY ARE MARIJUANA SUPPORTERS EXCITED?
Even the mildest proposals to relax marijuana laws in recent years have been dead on arrival in the Texas Legislature.
Republican Rep. Stephanie Klick, the House sponsor of the latest cannabis bill, has said even she wouldn’t have supported her own legislation two years ago. Klick, a nurse, said learning about the impact the oil can have on patients changed her mind.
Progress Texas, a left-leaning group that has pushed for marijuana reforms, called the measure an “important first step.”
But not all marijuana reform advocates are celebrating. The Marijuana Policy Project calls the legislation “unworkable” and blasted lawmakers for not following the lead of 23 states that allow comprehensive medical marijuana.
WHAT DO OPPONENTS SAY?
Before the Texas House passed the bill by a 96-34 margin, some lawmakers shouted “It’s a bad bill!” during a lengthy debate. The Sheriff’s Association of Texas has also raised concerns about the oil falling into the wrong hands or being improperly used.
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WILL ABBOTT SIGN IT?
Since taking office in January, Abbott – the state’s former attorney general – has mostly limited his comments about marijuana to saying he doesn’t see decriminalization happening this year.
But that’s far from the issue outlined in the legislation now in front of him. He also has plenty of political cover in the form of other GOP governors and his own Republican-controlled Legislature that have supported legalizing its restricted medical use.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: @pauljweber