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Governor Abbott at odds with lawmakers and voters on cannabis

Medical cannabis is finding acceptance across the United States to various degrees, in both deep-blue and deep-red states. But Texas, the Lone Star State, has been firmly against the herb due to the hard-line stance of Governor Greg Abbott. Cannabis will never be legal while Abbott is in office, according to the man himself, but after the governor’s recent scandal, it’s possible he may be ousted sooner than he thinks.

What’s happening in Texas?

Medical cannabis legislation has moved at a snail’s pace in Texas, and even when the state finally did pass a law in 2015, it was met with fierce controversy. Efforts to advance the basic medical marijuana laws have stalled, and no bill has found enough support to pass through the state’s two legislative chambers.

Texas has a CBD-only law, but an even more restrictive one than most. For patients to acquire CBD, doctors must “prescribe” it, not recommend it. Since prescribing CBD would be a violation of a Texas doctor’s license, there’s no way for them to get products into the hands of patients without putting their jobs on the line. Not to mention, the law only gives on-paper CBD access to patients with specific epileptic conditions.

This strict enforcement of the law has not come without plenty of criticism, and accusations that the state has violated personal privacy. Some cities have taken it upon themselves to decriminalize cannabis with their own measures – Dallas and Houston are leading the way.

Citizens in many states now have lots of legal protection when it comes to using medical cannabis, with several examples of judges ruling in favor of users keeping their jobs. Yet in Texas, a company simply wanting to stock CBD products is deemed worthy of a raid.

Texas needs to move with the times

With the cannabis situation in Texas so dire, even freeing up access to CBD oil would be a start, and surely a fair government compromise? Not as far as Abbott is concerned, who reaffirmed his no tolerance stance in comments to local press back in August. He spoke of how Texas is a “law and order” state and added that they had made provisions for patients with epilepsy – he quietly left out that those provisions don’t work in practice.

Abbott also expanded on previous comments he had made about the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and other parts of the country. He mentioned about the long-held view that cannabis could be a gateway drug and that there had been reports in some states of marijuana users overdosing or having bad reactions to the plant.

We can glean from this that Texas wants to continue conforming with federal law on cannabis, and that the state will keep limiting the expansion of cannabis legislation. There seems to be no desire to reassess their approach or consider new research.

Anger over Texas’ approval process

CBD oil access was meant to be opened up to qualified patients from June 1st 2017, following the pass of the limited CBD-only bill two years earlier. More than 40 applications were made for licenses that would permit growing the crops needed to make these products in Texas. But so far only three of these applicants have been given preliminary approval to grow the plants by the evaluation committee in charge of handling the program.

The initial application fees set by the Texas Department of Public Safety are reported to be very steep and pricing many applicants out of the market. Furthermore, there’s only a guarantee to be considered, even after parting with substantial amounts of money. No Texas company is yet to receive full approval by the regulatory body, and the three with preliminary approval have until September 1 to pass inspections, the strictness of which are unknown.

The DPS has been accused of manipulation by companies that failed to receive approval, claiming that the evaluation committee considered no expert consultations, changed the criteria without forewarning and evaluated applications through a non-standardized method. Companies with similar growing facilities were given completely different scores by the DPS. The department has responded, saying that no applications have been “denied,” nor are any up for review.

A medical cannabis scandal?

Governor Abbott’s position is in line with that of the nation’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who restarted the war on pot in early 2018 by ordering federal law enforcement to clamp down on states where cannabis is legal. The Texas Cannabis Industry Association (TCIA) has scribed a formal complaint to both Governor Abbott and the DPS – 10 companies have signed the TCIA complaint already, and more could follow suit.

The formal complaint looks at both interference from Governor Abbott and highlights the inconsistencies in how the DPS evaluated applications. Abbott is being accused of exceeding his authority by looking to directly impact how Texas’ CBD law is implemented.

The Compassionate Use Program passed through the House and Senate in Texas with a supermajority that Abbott is unable to veto. By looking to stifle the implementation of the law, Abbott is not only going against Texas lawmakers, but Texas citizens too.

Four in five Texans are now supportive of medical cannabis, according to a newly-released poll. An impressive 53 percent are supportive of across-the-board legalization for adults. Just one in six Texans are opposed to any type of cannabis legislation. Many medical cannabis patients in Texas are so desperate to access products, that they have relocated to legalized states for that sole reason. For some with serious conditions, it can be a matter of life or death.

In going against the wills of voters and elected politicians, Governor Abbott is putting himself in hot water. Abbott has decided he doesn’t want cannabis, perhaps the Texas electorate will decide they no longer want him as governor. He has shown himself to be at best backward-thinking and at worst deceptive on cannabis in Texas – but it is not him who pays the price, it’s the patients.

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