Texas took a very small step toward legalizing medical marijuana that some advocates say could do more harm than good. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature voted Monday to approve Senate Bill 339, a measure that would allow doctors to prescribe cannabidiol, a marijuana-derived product with very little tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in it, to patients suffering from extreme, chronic seizures.
SB 339 has now passed both chambers of the Texas legislature, which means the bill will soon head to Texas Governor Greg Abbott's desk. But despite the fact that this was the first time a medical marijuana bill has made it this far through Texas' legislature, marijuana advocates’ support for the bill’s passage was tepid. “On a certain level, the legislature should be commended for acknowledging the medical value of marijuana,” Heather Fazio, the Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “It is an historic vote in that sense.”
Yet Fazio also pointed out that the bill's passage would do little for the people it ostensibly serves. “Not a single patient will be helped by this legislation,” Fazio said.
Fazio’s negative opinion of SB 339 hinges on a single word choice, which would put Texan medical practitioners in an awkward position if the bill is passed. In the 23 U.S. states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana, the laws typically call for doctors to “recommend” marijuana, rather than prescribe it; under federal law, it is still illegal for doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients, yet that is precisely what this bill approves. Doctors who prescribe drugs that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration are vulnerable to a whole host of penalties, including having their licenses suspended.
Despite the perceived shortcomings in this bill and the fact that two other bills, House Bill 3785 and Senate Bill 1989, were scuttled just weeks after being introduced, private investors are bullish on marijuana’s future in Texas. Advocates have begun running television ad campaigns comparing the negative effects of marijuana to the negative effects of alcohol.