In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed the Compassionate Use Act, the state’s first medical marijuana program. Though it’s tiny in scope compared to other states’ laws, the measure allows doctors to prescribe cannabis products with very low THC levels to patients with intractable epilepsy. Access to the state’s three marijuana dispensaries, which are expected to open in early 2018, is limited to patients who can’t control seizures with federally approved drugs — a restriction that leaves out hundreds of thousands of other patients, including Micah.
Jensen and other medical marijuana advocates tried to convince lawmakers to dramatically expand the program during the 2017 legislative session. More than half of the Texas House signed on to legislation that would have allowed doctors to recommend cannabis to patients with any debilitating medical condition, not just those with intractable epilepsy. Though the bill cleared a committee, it was never considered by the full House.
According to Shannon Robbins, assistant director of Epilepsy Foundation Texas, more than 345,000 Texans diagnosed with epilepsy — about two-thirds of the total — do not qualify for the Compassionate Use Act.
Jensen said Micah’s condition is “not bad enough” to participate, even though his epilepsy is incurable. Because he responds to treatment, his case doesn’t meet the definition of intractable epilepsy. His seizures can be temporarily controlled by adjusting the dose of Lamictal at least three times a year, but she fears the neurologist will eventually prescribe another anticonvulsant with additional side effects.
“[Cannabis] is something that should at least be an option for a doctor to recommend,” Jensen said. “It cannot hurt. If he overdoses on his seizure medications, it can be lethal. But if he overdoses on cannabis, it’s not.”