TX: Amarilloan Supports Cannabis As Medicine

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Bill Wright, 54, is an independent medical marijuana advocate who suffers from roughly 28 ailments, many of which are genetic.

His heart has only two working valves and is kept beating by a defibrillator. He also suffers from Crohn’s disease, an incurable bowel condition.

“I do have reason to be doing this,” he said. For the Amarillo resident, cannabis is “the only effective manner that I’ve found to control Crohn’s disease. It makes your brain think ‘Everything’s cool, everything’s normal.’”

While some people might view medical marijuana advocates as “tree-hugging hippies,” that’s not the case with Wright. He’s been a Republican his entire life. He voted for Ronald Reagan, he proudly said, going on to explain that “environmentalists” drove him out of his California home in Fortuna when they shut down logging operations around the Redwoods and he lost his job.

Although Wright has used cannabis to treat various illnesses since the 1980s, he didn’t start his advocacy efforts until 2014. Today, he has a small group of like-minded individuals with whom he networks via social media and telephone.

“When we want to speak to our group, we create an event on Facebook. Then people can go there, and it’s got all the information about the topic. We don’t gather in a room. It’s mainly for people who are sick and can’t get out of the house.”

This sort of grassroots marijuana advocacy focuses primarily on state representatives. As opposed to states like California where voters can decide on issues like medical marijuana through the ballot box, the only way a law can be made in Texas is through the legislature.

“There are only three people in Amarillo who are important to us,” Wright continued, referring to state Rep. John Smithee, state Rep. Four Price, and state Sen. Kel Seliger.

Some progress

In the 84th Texas Legislature, there were five bills introduced that would have reduced penalties for marijuana use. One of these would have made use completely legal for adults. On top of these, there were four others that would have provided legal access to medical marijuana.

One of the bills allowed for very limited use of medical marijuana, but only for Texas residents with intractable epilepsy. It was signed into law on June 1, 2015, and is now known as the Compassionate Use Act.

Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy’s website explains that the law requires that qualified doctors join a physician registry and include information in the registry itself, such as dosage recommendations, means of administration and the total amount of low-THC cannabis required to fill a patient’s prescription.

Once issued, the prescription also would order a licensed marijuana establishment to distribute cannabis to the patient. In several respects, the Texas law attempts to mimic the prescription system put in place by federal authorities. The state has until September 2017 to issue at least three licenses for businesses hoping to participate in the program.

Smithee, Price and Seliger all voted for the bill.

In spite of this modest advance, Seliger doesn’t believe that any broad legalizations of marijuana – whether medicinal or recreational – are on the horizon.

“Every year, there are bills put forth to decriminalize marijuana and every year they fail. I don’t see (the 85th Texas Legislature) as being any different,” Seliger said.

Growing uses

Support for cannabis use to deal with conditions outside of epilepsy appears to be expanding.

The Texas branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is currently overseeing a yearlong campaign for veterans in all conflicts since the Korean War to write on empty pill bottles their name, military branch, date of service, combat operations and disability.

The signed bottles will be delivered to Gov. Greg Abbot on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, along with signed letters from those across the state who served.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website that deals with PTSD and cannabis states that the “belief that marijuana can be used to treat post-
traumatic stress disorder is limited to anecdotal reports from individuals with PTSD who say that the drug helps with their symptoms.”

However, the VA admits that cannabidiol, a component of cannabis sativa also known as CBD (that will not make users high), could have some benefits for those contending with anxiety, a serious symptom of PTSD.

“Administration of oral CBD has been shown to decrease anxiety in those with and without clinical anxiety,” the VA website says. “This work has led to the development and testing of CBD treatments for individuals with social anxiety, but not yet among individuals with PTSD.”

Measuring opinions

Seliger said that one problem with the issue is that while he hears from many proponents of cannabis for medicinal purposes, he doesn’t hear from doctors.

Lawmakers “try to stay out of the doctor-patient relationship,” Seliger said. “Once doctors come to me and tell me that it’s necessary to treat illnesses, then I’ll change my position.”

While Seliger and his colleagues hold to the perceived current opinion of mainstream medical professionals, many residents of the Lone Star State appear to be changing their stance faster than their elected officials.

A 2014 poll conducted by The University of Texas at Austin and The Texas Tribune found that 28 percent of Texans would legalize cannabis for medical use only. Another 49 percent would legalize marijuana for any purpose, either in small quantities (32 percent) or in any quantities (17 percent).

Texas has some of the harshest laws in the country against marijuana possession. The maximum penalty for possessing a small amount of the controlled substance is 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. A study by the American Civil Liberties Union shows the state also ranks first for marijuana arrests in the country.

A 2015 poll again conducted by UT and the Tribune showed that most Texans view that as too stiff. Almost half of those surveyed, 44 percent, strongly support lowering punishment to a citation and a $250 fine. Another 24 percent would somewhat support the measure.

Daron Shaw, who teaches government at UT-Austin and co-directs the poll, said, “If you took a real pro-law-and-order stance 10 years ago, you have to go through some sort of conversion.”

The poll director observed that unlike many policy issues, support was uniform across the political divide “from hippy-dippy liberals to the tea party.”

Wright, the Amarillo medical marijuana advocate, said that he is wary of full legalization. He said his only opinion is that, “I’m sick and I need a doctor.”

He fears that if marijuana was fully legalized, there would be less incentive for the medical field to engage in research and have doctors prescribe the appropriate strain of cannabis.

Users would be able to take whatever type of cannabis they wanted.

“There are over 1,800 strains and each works differently,” Wright said.

Furthermore, Wright would like to buy locally from upstanding businesses.

“It makes me upset that my government makes me buy medication from Mexican cartels rather than a Texas-grown product,” he concluded.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Amarilloan Supports Cannabis As Medicine
Author: Creede Newton
Contact: (806) 376-4488
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Website: Amarillo Globe-News