Marijuana is currently in legal limbo in Texas, and the mysterious shutdown of applications for medical marijuana dispensaries only adds to the confusion.
A new process that was supposed to pave the way for dozens of businesses to operate was put in place after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Texas Compassionate Use Act in 2015. The law opened up growth and use of marijuana in Texas for a low number of patients, such as those with epilepsy. Though many activists felt the legislation was needlessly restrictive and, in many cases, only authorized doses too low to be effective, it was undeniably a step towards greater acceptance of medical marijuana.
That said, the dispensary business did the opposite of booming. The application process opened in 2017, and only three companies were granted licenses — Surterra Texas, Cansortium Texas and Compassionate Cultivation. The number is the bare minimum of approvals mandated by the law.
Since then, more than a dozen companies have been interested in expanding to serve the Texas market, but the application process was shut down without warning in 2019. The Texas Department of Public Safety put the following notice up on its website and has not updated it in four months:
“The department is not currently accepting new applications for dispensing organization licenses but ongoing operations are unchanged: qualified physicians continue to register as prescribers of low-THC cannabis, and current licensed dispensing organizations continue to fill prescriptions for patients with the required medical conditions.”
Requests for comment by multiple news sources, including Reform Austin, regarding the reason that the process has been shut down have drawn mostly official nonanswers. The window for applicants was supposed to run from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1 but was halted after just one week.
This has been a blow to people seeking medical marijuana for even the low number of conditions that it is prescribed for in Texas, such as terminal cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Most insurance plans will not cover the substance, so the only price pressure is the free market. With only three sources in the state and apparently no more planned in the near future, it’s likely that medical marijuana prices will remain high.
The uncertainty and silence from officials is not helping the law achieve its desired effect.
“I find it concerning that a week into the application process it’s suspended with no notice and no clear communication with doctors, patients or the general public,” said Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, a pro-marijuana activist group, to the Texas Tribune.
There has been some assurance from lawmakers that this process might eventually open up and become more viable. State Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) was one of the people who worked hard to expand the Compassionate Use Program. She remains hopeful that the program will begin to work as intended.
“Hang tight for now,” she said to The Texas Tribune. “This is likely just a temporary delay until we know which of the incurable neurodegenerative conditions are appropriate to be included on the list.”
Fights about the content and application of marijuana in Texas have been robust in the state over the past few years. Texas DPS is already knee-deep working out the new process for testing seized hemp for its levels of THC since new laws went into place legalizing the growing of hemp in the state. It is quite possible, as Klick states, that DPS is simply trying to navigate the new and often confusing regulations that surround marijuana in Texas. If that’s true, it would be nice if they would tell Texans that instead of staying silent.