Texas Politics

Medical marijuana will soon be growing in Texas. Here’s who can use it

Medical marijuana will soon be growing in Texas to help Texans with intractable epilepsy if federally approved medication hasn’t helped.
Medical marijuana will soon be growing in Texas to help Texans with intractable epilepsy if federally approved medication hasn’t helped. Star-Telegram archives

Any day now, medical marijuana will legally start to grow in the state of Texas.

It will be planted, grown and processed on a 10-acre parcel of land in Schulenburg, a small community east of San Antonio, now that the company that owns the property — Cansortium Texas — has received the state’s first license to do so.

The low-level cannabidiol will be sold, under a 2015 law, to help Texans with intractable epilepsy if federally approved medication hasn’t helped.

“We expect to have the medicine by the end of this year, I hope by December,” said Jose Hidalgo, chief executive officer of Cansortium Holdings, the Florida-based parent company of Cansortium Texas. “Our focus is to give access to patients.

“With a population of 27 million plus in Texas, it is so important for us to be there and provide” medicine for patients.

Cansortium Texas was the first company to receive state approval for medical cannabis from the Texas Department of Public Safety, although officials are soon expected to give approval to two other companies — Compassionate Cultivation and Surterra Texas — as well.

This culminates years of work, since the Texas Legislature, led by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, approved the Texas Compassionate Use Act to make use of cannabidiol, or CBD, legal for at least some of the nearly 150,000 Texans estimated to have intractable epilepsy.

This ingredient of a marijuana plant lets a patient get the benefits without the high. A different component, THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient that produces a high.

To get this medical marijuana, Texans must have a prescription and then potentially pay between $45 and $90 for the medicine.

Other marijuana use, for medical or recreational reasons, remains illegal in Texas and more than a dozen other states. But it is legal in more than 25 other states.

“A lot of folks think this could happen overnight,” said Klick, a nurse who helped write the bill. “But this is a very complex industry. These children need a consistent quality of meds. That’s why this has taken so long. It’s incredible complex.

“I”m hoping that some of these folks will have a merry Christmas because this product will be available in Texas.”

A costly process

DPS workers for months have been reviewing more than 40 applications by companies hoping to legally grow medical cannabis in Texas.

The first permit was issued Sept. 1 to Cansortium Texas and two more are expected soon.

The Texas Cannabis Industry Association has filed a complaint about the program, calling on more than three licenses to be issued.

“TCIA believes the state needs to prepare for an immediate second round of applications and issue at least nine additional provisional licenses to ‘ensure reasonable statewide access,’ ” the letter stated. “The industry is in place and engaged.”

It’s not a cheap or easy process.

The companies had to have facilities in place before the state license could be issued. And they each must pay a nearly $490,000 fee once approved, as well as a nearly $320,000 renewal fee every two years if they want to keep operating their facility in Texas.

These fees are high and geared to cover the cost of regulating a new industry in Texas.

South Texas site

As for Cansortium Texas, their facility is about 230 miles south of Fort Worth, off West U.S. 90 in Schulenburg.

For now, plants will be grown inside in what is known as MCPUs, Modular Cultivation and Processing Units, with round-the-clock security.

Hidalgo said he’s trying to keep a lot of details confidential, but he did say the parcel of land is in an agricultural area that is nowhere near schools, parks or homes.

“We are going to start cultivating any moment,” he said recently.

The company will sell only the liquid form of medical cannabis — whether in capsules or drops — as it does in other states under the Knox Medical brand.

A look online at the company’s Florida website cites prices for some CBD products as $45 for one 300 milligram vape cartridge or sublingual drops and $90 for a 600 milligram vape cartridge or sublingual drops.

“Our mission is to help the thousands of children and parents and elderly and people who really need the medicine,” Hidalgo said. “We know the price is important ... (because) this is not yet covered by insurance.”

Low level THC

This law was the first time Texas lawmakers legalized any form of cannabis.

But they’ve long stressed — some even describing it as the difference between grape juice and wine — that this is an extremely limited form of medical marijuana and lets the patient receive benefits without the high.

State officials have been working on rules governing the process of the CBD oil for the past two years.

Once the product is fully available, only certain doctors — those registered with the Compassionate Use Program — may prescribe the product to treat intractable epilepsy.

Hidalgo declined to say how much marijuana will be grown at his facility, but he said it will take two doctors to prescribe the medicine, one to recommend the patient and the other to validate the prescription.

Then the patient would be registered with the Compassionate Program in order to get the medicine that, at least initially, can come through home deliveries.

Looking ahead

Already, Hidalgo said he’s received countless emails, letters and calls from prospective customers, doctors and more hoping for information about the product.

This type of medicine, which must be prescribed by a doctor, may not cross state lines and only be sold in the state where it is manufactured.

That’s why Hidalgo’s Cansortium Holdings has separate locations in Florida, Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania and now Texas.

“There’s no shortage of (people) reaching out to us, patients, physicians (and other) groups,” Hidalgo said. “We’ve received all kinds of requests already.”

There were efforts in the Texas Legislature earlier this year to expand this law, and open it up to patients with ailments other than intractable epilepsy.

Klick said that didn’t happen because there’s not enough data to show if this low-level cannabidiol would successfully help other medical conditions.

Klick said she doesn’t know whether this law will be expanded any in the future.

“I think Texas is going to take a slow, careful approach,” she said.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley