Texas’ marijuana program is one of the most restrictive in the country. Advocates hope for change.

Texas’ marijuana program is one of the most restrictive in the country. Advocates hope for change.

By Sami Sparber and Aria Jones

Five years after Texas legalized medical marijuana for people with debilitating illnesses, advocates and industry experts say the state’s strict rules, red tape and burdensome barriers to entry have left the program largely inaccessible to those it was intended to help.

But with a new legislative session gaveling in next month, some Texas lawmakers see an opportunity to fix the state’s medical cannabis program—known as the Compassionate Use Program — by further expanding eligibility and loosening some restrictions so Texas’ laws more closely resemble those of other states that allow the treatment.

There are 3,519 Texans registered with the state to use medical marijuana, though advocates say 2 million people are eligible based on current law.

Texas’ program pales in overall participation and scope compared with other states: It has fewer enrolled patients and businesses than most other states with medical marijuana programs. At least some form of medical marijuana is legal in 47 states nationwide, but Texas’ restrictions put it in the bottom 11 in terms of accessibility, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“We’re pretty dang close to the bottom. We’re pretty far behind,” said state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, referring to how access to Texas’ medical marijuana program fares compared with other states. Menéndez will push legislation in the next session to further expand the program.

Oklahoma, home to 25 million fewer people than Texas, has more than 100 times as many registered patients who can access medical marijuana. This December, two years after the passage of Oklahoma’s medical cannabis program, there were 365,464 people enrolled. To the east, Louisiana, with a fifth of Texas’ population, had 4,350 patients in 2019, and to the west, New Mexico had enrolled more than 82,000 people in its program as of the same year.

Industry experts say Texas’ narrowly designed program is also hindering a market that could help drive Texas’ economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

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