Advocates say expansion of medical marijuana could reduce opioid overdoses, generate jobs

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) – It has been five years since medical marijuana was approved in Texas, now industry experts and patients are hoping legislators will expand qualifying conditions and change the THC cap in the upcoming session.

Patients believe and experts agree: loosening rules for the Texas Compassionate Use program, the state’s medical cannabis program, has the potential to reduce opioid overdoses and increase tax revenue.

To qualify for the Compassionate Use program, patients must have one of the following conditions: epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, autism, ALS, terminal cancer, and incurable neurodegenerative diseases. So far, only 3,500 people in Texas are registered to use medical marijuana.

One of those people is a Lubbock man, Casey Lurk who has continuously used medical marijuana to treat his rare condition called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (type 1A), which causes severe neuropathy and pain.

“It feels like you stepped on a landmine and had to walk it off,” Lurk said.

Lurk’s doctor prescribed low dose opioids to treat his pain, but he became frustrated by the side effects, which made working difficult. As a recovering alcoholic, he was concerned about becoming addicted, especially after losing his brother to opioids.

That is when Lurk discovered the Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation, one of three licensed medical cannabis businesses located right outside of Austin, in Manchaca.

Within eight months of using medical marijuana, his opioid usage dropped from 180 pills a month to 120 pills.

However, Lurk said his opioid usage could be reduced even further if Texas legislators removed the THC cap on medical cannabis.

“Essentially right now, the THC limit is at .5%. To give you perspective, agricultural hemp produces .3% of THC, so we are only a couple of points away from a hemp crop,” Lurks said.

CEO of Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation Morris Denton said doctors, not legislators, should have control and authority to change the amount of THC and CBD a patient can be prescribed.

“Doctors view this as medicine, not as a drug. And as a result, they should be able to prescribe this medicine, just like any other form of medicine that’s in their toolkit,” Denton said.

In addition, Lurk said doctors should be able to treat more people than currently qualifies.

“The stigma is that if you qualify here in Texas, people feel sorry for you because they think you are terminal,” Lurk said. “It shouldn’t be like that. It’s not a gateway to anything, but out of the opioids.”

As the law is currently written, only seven conditions are approved by the state, but Denton said doctors treat patients based upon their symptoms. According to Denton, the narrow guidelines provided by the state do not take into consideration a doctor’s education or background.

“And symptoms that are prevalent in these approved conditions mean that that patient qualifies. But those same symptoms may be prevalent in conditions that are not currently approved. And so that patient would not qualify, even though the symptoms are the same,” Denton said.

From a business perspective, Denton said expanding medical marijuana could generate a lot of revenue for Texas.

Denton adds it has the potential to create more than 40,000 jobs and drive more than $17 billion dollars in economic output over a five-year period to generate significant tax revenue north of a billion dollars annually once this market starts to really get mature.

“This industry has the potential to be a massive shot in the arm for the health of the citizens of Texas, but also for the economic welfare of the state,” Denton said.