Texas is surrounded by medical and recreational cannabis states. What is the status of reform laws in the Lone Star State?
Husband-and-wife duo Dave and Akila Weinecke are working to change mindsets in their community concerning medical cannabis. The couple sees cannabis as a potential solution to alleviating suffering from a variety of medical conditions, from chronic pain to seizure disorders.
Akila works as director of outreach for the Texas chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). She takes calls from various people who might be thinking about trying medical cannabis but are unsure how to talk to their doctors or are looking for more information.
She enjoys working with patients, but so far, she said the most rewarding success has been getting her mother off potent pharmaceuticals. Her mother has suffered for many years from severe back pain that her doctors were treating with hydrocodone and morphine.
“Once she moved from the East Coast to live with my family and I, I did voice my concern: ‘I’m not comfortable with you being on opiates. I would like for you to be present and be a part of our family gatherings.’”
Though her mother was not comfortable with the idea of smoking the plant, Akila was able to find a treatment option that worked better for her: a topical salve.
“Now, when she’s in her community with her senior friends, she tells them, ‘Hey, that salve works. It works great for my arthritis.’ I thought, ‘Great! We get to keep you around! No more opiates!’” Akila said.
Dave’s involvement in cannabis activism was the result of something more serendipitous.
“I’ve always believed in the healing properties of this plant, and I found out that there was such an organization out there, and I also found out they happen to meet at a local reggae bar here in town, which is my favorite kind of music,” Dave said. “So it just kind of all made sense for me to check this out, and I hit the ground running as soon as I did.”
Dave served as director of fitness and athletics for Texas NORML and now works as a volunteer, helping lobby lawmakers at the Capitol.
“I remember my first legislative session being involved was probably 2013, and you just wouldn’t even get a conversation in these offices. You would go in there and say, ‘Yeah, I want to talk about House bill yada yada, which is the decriminalization of cannabis,’ and they would just laugh at you,” he said. “And now fast forward five years now and we’re able to actually go into these offices and have real conversations with these people about making change.”
The Texas Legislature recently amended the Compassionate Use Act to include several more conditions that would qualify an individual for care.
Unlike Oklahoma, Texas’ Compas-sionate Use Act includes only a handful of medical conditions that are legally treatable with cannabis. When the law first took effect in January 2016, it was allowed only for the treatment of intractable epilepsy.
Now, the list of treatable conditions includes epilepsy and other seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, autism, cancer pain and incurable neurodegenerative disorders.
Even with the new additions to the law, Dave sees plenty of room for improvement.
“The Texas Compassionate Use program is our joke of a medical cannabis program here in the state of Texas,” he said.
In his view, it is not only the range of coverage that needs improvement, but the actual medical product as well.
The only form of cannabis legal in Texas is referred to as low-THC cannabis. By law, any salve, tincture, salt, oil or other form of cannabis must contain no higher than 0.5 percent THC by weight.
“It’s basically a hemp oil extract that is being provided to these patients,” said Dave. “And anybody who does any studying whatsoever about this plant knows that CBD is beneficial, but it is far more beneficial when it has the rest of the plant with it.”
Due to the restrictions in Texas law, Dave sees many patients using medical cannabis move to different states that allow for a more comprehensive treatment.
As more states expand their own cannabis laws, such as Oklahoma’s new medical program and Illinois’ recent legalization of recreational cannabis, more and more Texans are leaving the state to seek treatment elsewhere.
“One that comes to mind is Alexis,” said Dave. “Alexis used to have several hundred seizures a week. She has been using cannabis oil and taking it orally, and she has not had a seizure in almost four years.”
Dave met Alexis and her family while they were living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, though the family has since relocated to Colorado, where accessing cannabis is easier.
Though Dave and Akila work in different fields of activism, they are both passionate about bringing information and education to the people they work with.
In 2017, the Texas chapter of NORML was named Chapter of the Year for its work in outreach and activism.
For Dave, activism means not only speaking to lawmakers, but also having conversations within the broader community of Texas as well.
“The Texas legislative session meets once every two years, so in the off-season, as we like to call it, I get out there and speak and educate and empower others to get involved and do the same thing,” he said.
Akila also enjoys working in education and advocacy but finds her own path is less than straightforward.
“I’ve been an activist since 2015. I would love to make a career out of this,” she said. “I’m struggling to find that as being a path with being a person of color. I feel a lot of reefer madness and a lot of stereotypical things create a barrier. A lot of people see me and see a stereotype or a projection of what I’m advocating for rather than [that] I would like to educate and share knowledge of something that’s beneficial.”
Though Akila does recognize the value of pharmaceuticals and other lab-designed medications like vaccines, she said the unique natural properties of the cannabis plant deserve the attention of the medical community as well.
“Cannabis acts well with our endocannabinoid system, which helps our bodies rest and reset,” she said. “Everybody on the planet needs some good rest and reset — a good night’s sleep, a good meal, the feeling of a deep breath in and out to find relief — and that’s what cannabis does.”