When I called Compassionate Cultivation CEO Morris Denton and said we wanted to ask him about marijuana law in Texas, the man behind the state’s first retail dispensary seemed confused. “I was hoping you were going to explain marijuana law in Texas to me,” he laughs.
Yes, getting green legally in the Lone Star State is complicated, and it requires far more than chronic back pain. Texas is traditionally one of the most conservative states in America, and its historical approach to cannabis legislation is no exception. Passing the Compassionate Use Act in 2015 was a landmark moment, but it’s probably going to be a while before anyone can spark up legally in the home state of Willie Nelson. That doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made. Here’s the full story on what you need to know.
Is medical marijuana legal in Texas?
Yes, but you’re not going to see green crosses on the side of the road like you might in Washington or Colorado. Medical marijuana is legal in Texas only by the thinnest of technical definitions. In 2015, the state passed the Compassionate Use Act, but it is regarded as one of the most restrictive pieces of medical marijuana legislation in the United States.
How can I get a prescription under the Compassionate Use Act?
You probably can’t. To qualify to receive medical marijuana in Texas, the Compassionate Use Act states that you must be a permanent resident of the state and suffer from “intractable epilepsy.” That’s the only way you can ingest even a minuscule amount of THC without breaking the law.
To get prescribed, a certified physician must determine that the risk of low-THC cannabis is reasonable relative to the potential benefit. A second certified physician must then concur with the first physician’s assessment. Prospective patients must have also tried at least two other antiepileptic drugs without seeing results before they can be prescribed medical marijuana.
What types of physicians can prescribe it?
Only physicians certified in neurology or epileptology who belong to the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas are able to provide assessments as to whether a patient qualifies for medical marijuana use. State-wide, there are currently only 31 physicians on the registry, although the number has grown over the years.
The Compassionate Use Act also states that medical marijuana must be “prescribed” by doctors rather than “recommended.” This is significant because federal law states it is illegal to prescribe Schedule I narcotics like marijuana. This has been said to cause some hesitation among doctors. Not all of them want to prescribe something federally prohibited, even if the state (through restrictive legislation) allows them to.
Who can sell marijuana in Texas?
When it was passed in 2015, the Compassionate Use Act required the Department of Public Safety to provide licenses to three dispensaries by September of 2017. This didn’t quite happen, but they didn’t miss the mark by much. Cansortium Texas, which was licensed last September 1, and Compassionate Cultivation, licensed on October 31, have brick-and-mortar locations. Surterra Texas, licensed on December 15, is currently growing its first crop of products, soon to be available for delivery statewide according to its website.
In December, Cansortium Texas opened the state’s first dispensary in Schulenberg, Texas. The dispensary, Knox Medical, is not a dispensary in the traditional sense, as it does not have a storefront, but they do deliver. On February 1, they were responsible for a 6-year-old girl from central Texas becoming the first person in Texas to receive a legal delivery of medical marijuana.
A week later, on February 8, Compassionate Cultivation opened the state’s first walk-in dispensary just south of Austin. “Right now we’re probably around 100 patients that are part of our business,” Denton says. “Not all of those patients are returning patients, because this medicine is not a cure. It helps some people but might not help others. What we expect to see is around a 70% return rate from all of our patients. The reality is that we're acquiring new customers daily."