Bills would OK cannabis for epilepsy

State Rep. Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth filed a bill on Friday that would cross a line for Texas, allowing for the first time the strictly regulated, specific-purpose medical use of an extract of the cannabis (aka marijuana) plant.

It’s a step that has risks, but one the Legislature must carefully consider taking.

HB 892 and an identical Senate bill, SB 339 by Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, could help children with a certain form of epilepsy whose seizures cannot be controlled by other means.

The proposals would charge the Department of Public Safety with administering a program to license and regulate nonprofit organizations that would cultivate, produce and distribute “low-THC cannabis.”

The name is meant to differentiate it from marijuana. The desired extract is cannabidiol, better known as CBD.

That’s different from tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the compound that produces the marijuana-smoker’s high.

The distinction also separates the bills from “medical marijuana” legislation in other states, which allow sales of pot to treat ailments.

Directors, managers and employees of the dispensing organizations would have to register and undergo fingerprint-based criminal background checks.

The bills also set up tight controls for physicians who would prescribe CBD and its use. The substance would be ingested, not smoked.

It could only be prescribed to treat “intractable epilepsy,” a seizure disorder, for which patients have not received relief from two or more antiepileptic drugs.

Prescribing physicians must be certified in treating epilepsy or in neurophysiology and must devote a significant portion of their clinical practice to that work.

If the patient is younger than 18, a second qualified physician must determine that the risk of using CBD is reasonable in light of the potential benefit.

The safeguards in the bills are strong; the risk is that CBD has not been through the Food and Drug Administration’s lengthy testing and approval process.

The Texas Medical Association says it won’t be in favor of any drug that’s not FDA-approved. And the medical director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Texas Children’s Hospital said the risks are too great without successful FDA trials.

But Klick makes a powerful point: “Our goal is to help these families with children with epilepsy.”