A Snapshot Of America's Medical Marijuana Markets: Texas
Texas is considered one of the more restrictive states when it comes to cannabis access.
In 2015, the Lone Star State passed its Compassionate Use Program, which allows patients to consume “low-THC” products that contain .3% or .5% THC, depending on a physician's recommendation. Smokable cannabis flower is not permitted, nor is home growing for any purpose.
Large Cannabis Market, Small Supply
With such limitations, the medical market in Texas often goes unrecognized.
Limitations abound in the market. The second-largest state in the union only has three approved medical companies, making legal access difficult for numerous patients.
In 2019, an effort to license additional companies was halted just a week into the application process with no explanation. Initially, the window was to be open from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1.
Zoey Bullock, a cannabis advocate, marketer and personality often known as "Betty Chronix," said the shortcomings of the Texas make meeting patient needs difficult.
"We see other medical states with dozens of dispensaries carrying products containing over 90% [potency]," she said.
Yearning For An Expanded Market
In its earliest forms, the program was restricted to a few types of epilepsy.
Upset with the initial law, many Texas citizens have shown support for expanding access, and some forecast a booming market if adult use laws were to pass.
By 2018, support for adult use laws covering a small amount of possession grew to 53%, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Twenty-three percent of those polled supported any amount of adult use cannabis being legalized.
In 2017, Arcview Market Research predicted that a recreational market in Texas could reach $3 billion within a few years of launching.
An Evolving Market
As previously mentioned, Texas is now making strides to improve patient access.
In 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3703, which expanded its list of qualifying conditions to include ALS, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and terminal cancer.
The state included all forms of epilepsy and seizure disorders.
The Texas Department of Public Safety did not provide up-to-date enrollment figure to Benzinga, but reports suggest that enrollment grew 65% after Abbott signed the bill into law.
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Benzinga that the state's market has "evolved so rapidly."
Yet Fazio said Texas has yet to approve common qualifying conditions for its program: chronic pain and PTSD.
"We saw a lot of veterans coming and advocating for expansion to the Compassionate Use Program that they could use cannabis legally to treat their PTSD in particular, but also to get off of opiates and that was not included,” Fazio said.
While HB 3703 did not include all the conditions advocates sought, Fazio commended the inclusion of the Texas Department of Health Services in the process.
Despite a potentially lucrative market, a wealth of business adversity remains in place.
The state's three licensed producers operate in an imbalanced market with scores of unregulated products.
“These three licensed businesses also are competing with the legal hemp market,” said Fazio.
A myriad of CBD products can be found in Texas gas stations, candy stores, coffee shops and restaurants. In more liberal areas, like the capital city Austin, CBD is often advertised in storefronts or on select restaurant menus.
In late February, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced its state labs would not test for misdemeanor possession cases.
The decision is the latest in what has been called "a patchwork system of marijuana enforcement across the state."
With market limitations in place and citizens indicating support for adult use laws, the traditionally conservative state could make progressive moves on adult use laws.
States representatives like Democrat Roland Gutierrez want to advance the legislation despite opposition from higher-ups in the statehouse.
“I’m certainly not going to let [Texas Senator] Pete Flores continue being the rubber stamp for [Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick,” Gutierrez said in a January 2020 interview with the San Antonio Current.
“[As a state senator], you need to be able to think for yourself and be able to see what’s best for this community.”
Texas marijuana dvocates face opposition from other prominent lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who cited possible harm to children and pregnant women as his concerns.
“We have a lot of questions we need to answer before we talk about normalizing a drug like marijuana,” he said in February.
Advocates like Fazio are gearing up for the state’s legislative session in 2021 to advance access. Bullock isn't sure adult use will pass on the state level.
“Adult use may not happen in Texas until we overcome the conservative viewpoint toward medical cannabis and realize the true benefits of legalization," she said.
“Unfortunately, we may be waiting for federal law to change for Texas to adopt recreational sales.”
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