By Callie Yardley
Medical marijuana has been legalized in 24 states in the U.S., and in case you didn’t know, Texas is not one of them.
Although Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 339 last June, the law allows cannabis oil with no more than .5 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. and 10 percent cannabidiol to be used only for the treatment of patients with intractable epilepsy. Such use must be approved by two certified specialists.
Other patients suffering from cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety are still not eligible for medical marijuana relief.
Lydia Decker, a medical marijuana activist who started Genesis 1:29 in support of the legalization of medical marijuana, found the fight gained new importance when she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
“It’s more personal to me now than it has ever been,” she said.
Forced to take prescription drugs and use inhalers and oxygen, Decker tried cannabis oil to control her symptoms briefly and saw a world of change.
“For the two weeks I was on it, I didn’t have to take any prescriptions,” Decker said. “I didn’t have to use my inhaler. I didn’t have to use my oxygen. I had energy. I could think clear. I got things done. I felt like getting up and doing things.”
In 2015, she gave local interviews about her experience but began to fear trouble with the law. She stopped using the cannabis oil and got rid of anything that could incriminate her. Now she is back to using oxygen, taking prescriptions, using her inhaler six times a day and a breathing treatment four times a day.
“My quality of life kind of sucks right now,” Decker said. “I still fight because we need it legalized. Not just for myself, but for so many people here in Texas.”
Decker believes one of the reasons medical marijuana has not been legalized because it would eliminate the revenue stream from arresting people for marijuana-related incidents.
“We say that it is welfare for the law enforcement,” Decker said.
Lt. Chris Wischkaemper, who works in the criminal investigations division of the Texas Department of Public Safety and said his opinions are only his own and not his employer’s, said the research seems to show medical marijuana can be beneficial.
If patients need to use it, then they should, he said, but since the legislature has not allowed it, he will continue to uphold the law.
“I’ve got to enforce the law, regardless of what the law is,” Wischkaemper said. “It takes so long for the laws to catch up when the law needs to be passed.”
Bethany Pickard, a resident physician in the internal medicine department at the Amarillo branch of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said medical marijuana can give patients another option to treat their symptoms.
“It will be beneficial for certain patients, such as those with terminal illnesses, including certain cancers,” Pickard said. “It will help with appetite stimulation and nausea for those undergoing cancer treatment. It may also help patients with severe anxiety and has less serious side effects than most anti-anxiety medications.”
However, if the drug is legalized, Pickard is concerned that many would start faking certain symptoms to obtain a prescription, requiring the enforcement of regulations similar to those for pain narcotics.
Shyanne Stambaugh, a Lubbock resident, used marijuana recreationally once and believes Texas should legalize it for medical purposes.
“In some cases, it actually does work for people,” Stambaugh said. “When I tried it, I definitely felt more relaxed, and that could, for example, potentially help someone dealing with anxiety problems.”
If and when legalization happens, she thinks patients should be able to obtain medical marijuana from dispensaries as well as pharmacies.
“If it is going to be used medically, then a pharmacy would be the best place for it to be sold,” Stambaugh said. “They would know about how the drugs would interact with other medications and be able to help patients.”
But pharmacist Joel Harper said this is unlikely to happen in the near future because of insufficient information. In states where medical marijuana is legal, the drug is sold through dispensaries.
“More research would need to be done into the ways medical marijuana can be used to treat conditions before pharmacies could take a more active role,” Harper said.
In the meantime, Decker is continuing the legalization fight, which she said is about getting well, not getting high.
“When you’re on this side of it, it kind of hurts your heart because I know this works for me, but you tell me that I just want to be a pothead,” Decker said. “How do you think I feel when you just want to call me a pothead?”
While there is a stereotype about people who use marijuana, she believes is changing thanks to scientific findings and patient testimonies.
“There is no viable argument that you can produce against legalization because there is nothing more important than saving people’s lives,” Decker said. “This is exactly what cannabis is doing.”