Kevin Eltife and Stephanie Klick are taking the safest approach possible to an issue that, for them, is politically dangerous. The two legislators, both Republicans, have put themselves behind legalizing the narrowest sliver of medical cannabis. The Tyler state senator and Fort Worth state representative want to OK the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil for people with intractable epilepsy.
CBD is among the treatments prescribed for Alexis Bortell, a Rowlett 9-year-old who's become a poster child for medical marijuana reform in Texas. Two Colorado doctors who evaluated Bortell told her family that marijuana was the best remedy for her epileptic seizures. She was given a Colorado "red card" which allows for her to take marijuana-based medications. In Colorado, not in Texas.
Legalizing CBD with low THC concentrations -- Eltife and Klick are careful to emphasize that patients would not be able to get high from their medications -- for kids and adults suffering from crippling, life-threatening seizures is seemingly a no-brainer. It may not be what's best for drug-reform in Texas, however, according to Shaun McAlister, the executive director of the DFW Chapter of NORML -- the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
"I'm glad the we're talking about medical marijuana with some actual sincerity now in Texas, because this entire state is just tragically behind the rest of the country," he says. "On the other hand, I'm really nervous about a CBD-only push because, for one thing, CBD only legislation represents a really shallow understanding of what cannabis actually is and what it can do."
The medical benefits of pot are reaped from the whole plant, McAlister says. Reducing marijuana to its parts, as is done with Marinol, a THC-based medication that's been available nationwide since 1985, ignores the complexity of what makes marijuana an effective treatment for so many illnesses and conditions.
"What I'm afraid of with these CBD bills is it's going to create a medical system that's extremely limited, that's only going to help a tiny percentage of people," McAlister says.
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Rather than serving as the first step to meaningful changes in Texas drug policy, legalizing CBD may just be appeasement.
"While I would not personally stand in the way of CBD-only legislation -- I wouldn't testify against it -- I won't support it. I don't think it's inclusive enough. While it will help some patients, it's really just going to confuse the topic for a lot of medical professionals, for a lot of lawmakers and a lot of people in the community," McAlister says. "While I'll support any change that means fewer people going to jail for marijuana, this is not a good bill."
Update 1:42 p.m.: We were able to talk to Dean Bortell, Alexis' dad about the bill. He stressed that the concentrations of THC allowed in CBD oil, a 20-to-1 ratio, is only the minimum treatment his daughter would need. Potentially, she could need oil that is 10-to-1 or 1-to-1 THC content, which would not be legal under the proposed bill. Team Alexis' full statement follows.
"First I want to commend Representative Klick and Senator Eltife for their leadership on this issue. While I believe their hearts are in exactly the right place, I don't believe the bills filed today represent a solution for my daughter and many other patients throughout the state of Texas.
Areas of concern are:
1. The program is run by the 'Department of Public Safety' who has until 2018 to license the first dispensary. My daughter and many others can't wait that long. Also, I believe Health and Human Services should run the program.
2. The bill states 'No Other treatments approved by the FDA are available' as a precondition to medical cannabis. This implies we would have to try several dangerous pharmaceuticals, VNS Implant, and possibly Brain Surgery FIRST. That is horrifying!
3. The bill limits ratios on Cannabis oils to 20:1. This is what Alexis's Colorado doctors recommended as a STARTING POINT. They admitted, given her condition, that we could require a higher % of THC. This bill specifically blocks that.
Furthermore, the bill only covers intractable epilepsy and Team Alexis is comprised of over 5,200 patients and families with conditions ranging from Autism, Cancer, Epilepsy, Crohn's, PTSD, Chronic Intractable Neuropathic Pain, and Lyme Disease just to name a few. As a group guided by science and compassion we cannot yet support these bills in their current form. However, we believe with some modifications a workable solution can be created and passed this session.
We thank Rep. Klick and Sen. Eltife for their hard work on these bills and look forward to future communications with them and/or their staff on this critical issue.
Dean M. Bortell Team Alexis"