For this weekly feature, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) profiles a noteworthy bill that is currently going through the legislative process. The bill may relate directly to TCDD’s Public Policy Priorities or another disability-related issue.
Bill: House Bill (HB) 3703, relating to the prescription of low-THC cannabis for medical use by certain qualified physicians to patients with certain medical conditions.
Bill author: Rep. Stephanie Klick, House District 91 (Tarrant)
- Rep. John Zerwas, House District 28 (Fort Bend)
- Rep. Tom Oliverson, House District 130 (Harris)
- Rep. J.D. Sheffield, House District 59 (Erath, Comanche, McCulloch)
- Rep. Garnet Coleman, House District 147 (Harris)
Sponsor: Sen. Donna Campbell, Senate District 25 (New Braunfels)
The Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP) was established following the 84th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, through the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 339 by Sen. Kevin Eltife and Rep. Stephanie Klick. The program was created to allow the use of medical marijuana under very limited circumstances. Under the terms of the bill, individuals with intractable epilepsy are eligible to receive prescriptions for cannabis that contains only 0.5% or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the intoxicating ingredient in the marijuana plant. SB 339 required physicians prescribing the medication to enroll in a registry and track their prescriptions and dosing for each patient, and it gave the Department of Public Safety the task of monitoring the registry.
Since the passage of SB 339, three licensed medical marijuana dispensaries have opened in Texas and a limited number of physicians have gained the ability to prescribe medical marijuana. Patients utilizing TCUP have seen improvements in their conditions or their comfort levels since being prescribed low-THC cannabis, but the primary critique of the program has been that it is not expansive enough. At the time of SB 339’s passage, it was estimated that only about 300 Texans would qualify for the new program and advocates have contended that a number of patients with other debilitating conditions could also benefit from this treatment.
What does the bill do?
HB 3703 expands the narrowly-tailored Texas Compassionate Use Program to cover more diseases and disorders, allowing individuals with these conditions to be prescribed low-THC cannabis for treatment or pain management. Under the terms of the bill as passed by the Senate, qualifying conditions for TCUP would include epilepsy, a seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), autism, terminal cancer, or an incurable neurodegenerative disease. The Senate version of HB 3703 also includes privacy protections for the physicians enrolled in the cannabis provider registry and lowers – from two to one – the number of physicians whose recommendation is required for a patient to receive a low-THC cannabis prescription.
The House version of HB 3703 would establish a Low-THC Cannabis Research Program, to be conducted by one or more health-related institutions in the state; however, this provision does not appear in the bill as passed by the Senate.
Statement from the bill author, Rep. Stephanie Klick:
“My intent [in passing the Compassionate Use Act] was not to pass a recreational marijuana bill nor even a broad medical bill. My intent was – and still is – to have a truly medical program that follows the scientific data.”
Where is the bill in the process?
HB 3703 received a public hearing from the House Committee on Public Health’s Subcommittee on Medical Marijuana on April 11 and was later passed through the entire House on May 8 on a vote of 133-10. The bill was then referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, where it received a public hearing on May 17, before being unanimously approved by the Texas Senate on May 22. As of this writing, the House has yet to concur with changes made to the bill in the Senate. If they do, HB 3703 will head to the Governor’s desk for his signature or veto. Alternately, the House may request a conference committee with the Senate, to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill.
Who supports the bill and why?
The following testimony was provided to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on May 17:
- CTD: Chase Bearden, Deputy Executive Director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD), testified in support of HB 3703. He stated that, based on his personal experience, he has been able to lessen the number of opioids he takes after beginning to use Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, an extract from the cannabis plant. Bearden suggested that the 0.5% limit on THC in the prescriptions is too low, and that there is much research supporting the benefits of a higher limit of 1-5% THC.
- MAMMA: Thalia Seggelink, Co-Founder of Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA), testified in support of HB 3703. She admitted that she has been obtaining cannabis off of the black market in order to help alleviate her son’s aggression as a symptom of his autism. Seggelink emphasized how much she hates participating in criminal activity, but believes that the changes she has seen in her son’s behavior have been worth the risk. As Seggelink spoke, other members of MAMMA seated behind her raised pictures of their children with autism to show images of people who would benefit from the bill’s passage.
- Texas NORML: Jaclyn Finkel, Executive Director of the Texas Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), provided qualitative and quantitative research on medical marijuana that was pulled from expert resources and personal testimonies. She stated that there are many more conditions that could benefit from the use of the drug and encouraged the committee to seriously consider including them under HB 3703, as well. (TCDD Note: following the bill’s hearing, the Senate version of HB 3703 was expanded to include additional qualifying conditions not included in the House version, though it still excludes some conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and Crohn’s disease.)
- TCDD: Lora Taylor, TCDD Council Member, provided testimony on HB 3703 during its April 11 hearing before the House Public Health Subcommittee on Medical Marijuana. She spoke of her daughter’s experience using CBD oil under TCUP. According to Taylor’s remarks, in the 30 days immediately preceding her prescription, her daughter had 95 seizures lasting for up to 25 minutes. In the first 30 days of CBD oil use, however, Taylor’s daughter only experienced two seizures and they lasted seconds, not minutes. Taylor and her family were recently interviewed by Houston’s FOX 26 about their experience with CBD oil.
Who opposes the bill and why?
Opposition to HB 3703 appears to be limited, and comprised solely of people who oppose any expansion of the use of marijuana, medical or otherwise.
How much will the bill cost?
According to the Legislative Budget Board, HB 3703 will have no significant fiscal impact on the State.
Is there a Senate companion to the bill?
No identical bill was filed in the Senate.
For the latest information about where HB 3703 is in the process, follow the bill on the Texas Legislature Online. To receive future legislative updates from TCDD, subscribe to TCDD eNews or follow us on Twitter.