When it comes to Texas medical marijuana — the medical kind — pickings are slim in the Lone Star State. Really slim.
Texas is the biggest state in the lower 48. It ranks second in the nation in terms of population and it’s home to seven of the nation’s 20 biggest cities. And while Texas is also home to 150,000 patients who qualify for the state’s new medical marijuana policy, there is currently only one dispensary in the entire state to serve them. Yes, uno.
Last September, Florida-based Knox Medical opened their medical-marijuana dispensary on a farm near Schulenburg, Texas. As The Fresh Toast notes, the small town of some 3,000 residents is a 90-minute drive from Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, making it a central location for those in need in the area.
Not surprisingly, the locals in the conservative town are quick to point out that the lone Texas marijuana business is technically outside of city limits. Even Kristopher Emola, the cultivation manager for Knox Medical, has learned to keep quiet about the fact that he grows pot when talking to people in Schulenburg.
“It’s one of those things that has been so stigmatized for so long, that it’s natural to question it initially,” Emola told The Atlantic.
As The Fresh Toast points out, however, being off the beaten path is probably a good thing for the dispensary. Not only does Knox Medical have more than enough room to grow cannabis without getting too close to schools or playgrounds, it is also located far enough out that it won’t be stepping on locals’ toes — or convictions. According to The Atlantic, if small towns like Schulenberg can “get past the stigma” of playing host to such dispensaries, they could serve as the perfect entry points for the legal cannabis business to grow across prohibitionist states.
“If it helps people and it doesn’t hurt anything, why not do it?” asks Fayette County Judge Ed Janecka.
The lone dispensary is the result of Texas lawmakers passing the Texas Compassionate Use Act in 2015, which allows patients to obtain low-THC cannabis.
The law authorized the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to establish a registry of prescribing doctors, and required the DPS to issue licenses by September 2017 to at least three dispensaries to sell CBD to 150,000 patients in Texas, mostly children, who suffer from severe epilepsy. According to Andrew Lerman, a neurologist who has been prescribing the drug to his own epilepsy patients in Florida since it was legalized there four years ago, the drug significantly reduces the number of seizures many of these patients suffer — and with virtually no side effects.
While the drug could be a godsend for those who need it, there is no guarantee that all of the patients could benefit from it will actually have access to it. For starters, as The Atlantic points out, federal law stipulates that physicians in Texas could risk their prescribing rights if they recommend CBD to their patients. That fear is likely a big reason why only seven doctors in the state have registered for the program.
On top of that, since cannabis oil is still classified as a a Schedule I narcotic and no health insurance will cover it, a good number of patients who would otherwise qualify for the pricey drug likely won’t be able to afford it.
Still, while CBD-heavy, low-THC marijuana could be too pricey for some patients, the fact that it’s legal at all in a state largely opposed to legalization is a definite sign of progress. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other state lawmakers insist that the Texas Compassionate Use Act will not usher in broader legislation, but, as The Atlantic rightly argues, it’ll be tough for legislators to fight the urge to expand Texas’ pot laws once the revenue from CBD starts coming into the state — not to mention the fact that the nation’s cannabis market is expected to grow three to four times over in the next seven years.
At the very least, such growth could lead to an expansion of the Compassionate Use Program and more registered physicians. It could also drive legislators to reconsider their opposition to other, stronger forms of cannabis that could benefit even more people and, in turn, Texas’ coffers.
But you gotta start somewhere. And, for now, that somewhere for Texas marijuana is Schulenberg.
Well, just down the road from Schulenberg…