AUSTIN, Texas — Lawmakers have a lot on their plates during the 87th legislative session, including setting the budget, redistricting, funding public education, and after February's historic winter storm, addressing the failures of the state's electrical grid.
Nonetheless, medical marijuana advocates are hoping that one of those priorities will include expansion of the state’s compassionate use program.
In 2019, the Texas Legislature expanded the state’s compassionate use program to give patients with conditions like epilepsy, terminal cancer, and autism access to medical cannabis as treatment. But one condition left off of that list was post-traumatic stress disorder.
One Texas veteran and long-time medical marijuana activist says he is hopeful that this is the year that could change.
“I’m really excited to be back at the Capitol, I haven’t been at the Capitol since the last legislative session," said David Bass, founder of Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana and Director of Veteran Outreach for Texas NORML.
Bass has testified in front of the state Legislature every session since 2013, advocating for a medical marijuana program in Texas.
“It’s very intimidating the first time because… I was going to get up there and talk about something that's very illegal in Texas. So I was nervous. I've been to combat two times with the army, and I was shaking in my boots to sit down and talk to those legislators about cannabis, and about how it helps veterans in Texas with PTSD and their injuries as well," said Bass.
For more than eight years, Bass has been using cannabis to treat his PTSD, after a decade-long career serving in the military. He says cannabis allowed him to stop taking opioids and other psychotropic medications, and that the difference was life changing.
“It was just a wonderful relief. I was sleeping eight hours, I wasn't having these terrible anger outbursts... I felt like I could be in crowds of people and not be hyper vigilant," said Bass. "All of that went away with cannabis.”
It’s a message he’s been sharing with legislators with the help of other veterans, especially veteran Malachi Muncy, who created a piece of art depicting a toy soldier trapped inside a prescription bottle.
“The first time I saw this artwork I was completely blown away. Because I said, 'that's me,'" said Bass. "That's me and thousands of other veterans in Texas trapped inside that pill bottle, and we want out.”
This legislative session, Texas Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a Democratic representing District 27, has filed a bill to add PTSD to the list of medical conditions that qualify for the state’s medical marijuana program.
It’s one of a number of cannabis-related bills filed in both chambers. Lucio says he hopes that his bill’s limited scope will allow for bipartisan support.
“This is an issue that cuts across traditional partisan and stakeholder lines…and the language states limited to PTSD," said Lucio.
But with big tasks on the legislative agenda like setting the budget, redistricting, and now investigating the failures of the state's power grid during the recent winter storm, Lucio isn’t sure whether his bill will be at the top of the priority list.
“We only have a short period of time. The session ends at the end of May. But, if this isn't done by mid-May, I believe that it could not… pass at all. We'll have to wait two more years," said Lucio.
Bass says veterans are sending a message that there’s no time to waste.
“This is operation trapped," said Bass.
He held up various prescription bottles, each with a toy soldier and slip of paper inside. He says they carry messages from veterans addressed to Governor Abbott, sharing their stories and advocating for an expanded medical cannabis program in Texas.
"They put these little messages in here and they make me cry when I read them… Geoffrey McDonald, 86 to 96, 10 years, served in Operation Desert Storm… Serious service connected disabilities, PTSD, chronic back pain. And so there's no reason that Geoffrey should have to keep using those pills," said Bass. “This veteran committed suicide. And he created the soldier… that's a soldier made out of the cannabis plant. And this soldier ended up committing, the service member. We lost him. He sent a message… These soldiers paid the price. These soldiers paid the price for medical freedom.”
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, this session Bass hopes that message turns into action.