Alexis Bortell, a 10-Year-Old Medical Marijuana Exile, Returns to Texas to Cheer on Reformers

Alexis Bortell stands behind the podium, atop a stepping stool, addressing a packed house at the Southwest Cannabis Conference & Expo in downtown Fort Worth. She doesn’t look like the face of decriminalization. She’s not even old enough to buy the glass pipes being sold just a few aisles over. But she’s the star in the fight for a new marijuana policy in Texas, and the seats filled quickly at the convention center as she made her way to the podium.

Long black hair held back with a green bow, the 10-year-old girl commands the room despite her small size. She introduces herself as one of the Texas medical cannabis refugees living in Colorado, although she still calls herself, “a Texas girl.”

The crowd stood and clapped for her. Some held children of their own, and others pushed theirs in strollers. A few wore marijuana flags like superheroes with long capes, while even more showed their support of cannabis on caps, T-shirts and with the green color of their dress. One older black man wore a Confederate flag T-shirt with marijuana leafs replacing the stars of the confederacy. They all know Bortell’s story, about her flight to Colorado, a promised land of sorts for medicinal and recreational users.

“Let’s get this out of the way right now,” she says. “Yes, I’m probably the only kid in Texas right now who can stand in front of thousands of people and say that I use medical marijuana every day, and my Republican parents are proud of me.”

Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism, an Austin-based nonprofit organization, brought Bortell to the conference, and she shared her story about her experience with epilepsy, and how cannabis oil with a higher concentration of THC, cannabis' psychoactive ingredient, saved her life and extended the number of consecutive days she can go without seizures from three to 346 days. (The Texas Legislature last session approved the use of cannabis oil for some forms of epilepsy, but only oil with low levels of THC and for only a few patients.)

Bortell wasn’t the only policy star advocating for more sensible marijuana laws in Texas. Former NFL football stars Jim McMahon, Ricky Williams and Kyle Turley called for the National Football League to change its stance on pro athletes using cannabis to ease aches and pains after a brutal game instead of the pharmaceutical regiment that includes pain blockers before a game and pain killers after it’s over.

“I’ve seen a guy form an addiction to painkillers,” Turley says. “I’ve never seen a guy form an addiction to cannabis.”

Presenters discussed Texas laws and regulation, veterans and PTSD research, and the future of cannabis in Texas. (A couple of years seems to be the optimistic consensus for when Texas will go green.) Others gave pointers on growing cannabis in Texas, using technology with cannabis and investing money in cannabis ventures such as biopharmaceuticals, dispensaries or the edibles market.

Edible cannabis vendors like Cann-A-Chili showcased a cannabis-medicated Cajun Chili Kit, and Magical Butter sold its sturdy little machine that creates cannabis-infused butter. But the drug dogs sniffing in the load-in area kept vendors from bringing their cannabis-infused products into the convention center.

Other vendors offered legal advice such as “jury nullification,” which happens when a jury doesn’t agree with the law the defendant has been charged with, and legal services like those offered by the law offices of David Sloane, the “420 lawyer” and proud owner of the NORML Truth squad car, which was also on display at the conference.

The cannabis products being introduced by vendors from “The Toke Box,” a wooden lockbox for all the necessities to smoke the herb, to “Medicine Man Technologies,” a company that offers cultivation technology, just offered a taste of a growing industry that could bring jobs and money to communities devastated by the oil bust, and better healthcare options for Texans who suffer from afflictions like cancer, HIV/AIDS and PTSD.

The fight for less restrictive marijuana laws is one Bortell seems to believe can be won as she inspires the crowd with her conviction to let Texas legislators know that a lower THC bill, which was passed last legislative session, will not bring back refugees like herself and probably never will. But she made a vow before ending her speech to head back to Colorado, where she could legally get her nightly dose of cannabis oil with a higher load of THC:

“Someday I will come home to Texas,” she says, “and when I do, I will bring all the Texas medical cannabis refugees back with me.”

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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.