Texas is a step closer toward expanding its medical marijuana program.
The Texas House has passed a bill that would give access to medical marijuana to millions of more people.
Records from the Texas Department of Public Safety show 5,413 Texans listed on the state's Compassionate Use Registry as of May 2021. DPS – which runs the Compassionate Use Program – says 305 physicians are approved to prescribe medical marijuana.
The latest news from around North Texas.
“I was shocked at the amount of patients that are registered as opposed to physicians that are registered as well. There was a great divide,” said Dr. Christopher Chun, a physician based in Dallas.
Dr. Chun was recently approved to prescribe medical marijuana and in April, and opened Lonestar Cannabis Clinic, which is believed to be the first clinic in North Texas dedicated to evaluating patients for medical marijuana use.
“It’s really about helping patients and that's always been my focus,” Dr. Chun said.
In Texas, patients must have a qualifying condition to legally get medical marijuana. The conditions include epilepsy, a seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism, terminal cancer, or an incurable neurodegenerative disease.
But a bill in the Texas state legislature, HB 1535, would expand that list to include people with PTSD, chronic pain, debilitating conditions, and all forms of cancer.
“This is so important,” said Melissa Newman, a chronic pain sufferer.
Newman has a brain malformation which causes headaches that last days.
She said she spent years taking opioids for pain but stopped when she started smoking marijuana.
“I’m living a much different life now because, to me, this is super important because this would mean that I'm not a criminal in the state that I live in,” Newman said.
The bill would also increase the limit for THC, marijuana's main psychoactive chemical, from .5% to 5%.
Newman, who suffers from multiple conditions, says the strength of marijuana prescribed is a decision that should be made between patients and doctors, not lawmakers.
State Rep. Stephanie Klick, a republican from Tarrant County authored HB 1535 which passed the house with an overwhelming 134-12 vote.
“I'm very optimistic,” Rep. Klick told NBC 5. “There are very few pieces of legislation that pass by that margin.”
Rep. Klick also ushered the state's Compassionate Use Act into law in 2015, then helped expand access in 2019.
She said new data supports expanding it even more.
“In fact, one group that has the highest risk of PTSD are survivors of sexual assault. Up to 50% of survivors of sexual assault have PTSD,” Rep. Klick explained.
With access poised to grow, so are dispensaries.
Goodblend, one of three dispensaries licensed in Texas, announced this week a $25 million dollar expansion.
Though 5,400 patients are on the state's Compassionate Use Registry, it’s estimated up to two million are eligible.
Under the proposed expansion, Dr. Chun says that number would multiply many times over.
“Eleven million Texans have chronic pain,” he said.
Critics of the bill want the limit for THC eliminated, Rep. Klick said, primarily because they want recreational marijuana use to be legalized.
HB 1535 is now in the state senate where lawmakers have until May 31 to approve it before the legislative session ends.