In the state's latest medical marijuana hiccup, the Texas Department of Public Safety has approved only three dispensary licenses — which will give companies the right to synthesize and distribute CBD— out of 43 applicants. That was after the agency estimated that Texas would need a minimum of 12 dispensaries to serve patients across the state.
Naturally, businesses and advocates for medical marijuana access are not happy about the state's limited number of dispensary licenses for cannabidiol, or CBD as its known, an isolated component of marijuana that can drastically reduce seizures but doesn't produce a "high."
San Antonio-based company Alamo CBD failed to receive a license in May, despite a strong application, says CEO Dr. Lang Coleman. Coleman plans on suing the state along with partner companies Indoor Harvest and Vyripharm Biopharmaceuticals, both from Houston. They say that the state botched the selection process and made it needlessly difficult to get a license. According to Coleman, DPS changed their scoring criteria without notice, didn't consult experts, and didn't standardize their evaluation, which shows in the fact that similar facilities received vastly different scores.
On Monday, DPS responded to Alamo CBD's initial letter of complaint. The department reiterated that the company has not yet technically been "denied" a license.
But that doesn't change the fact that Alamo CBD and partners have already spent close to $250,000 writing the application, and meanwhile continue to pay an additional $10,000 a day on
half-completed facilities in Stockdale, all without a DPS license. The three companies who were granted a license—Surterra Texas, Compassionate Cultivation, and Cansortium Texas— are all based out-of-state, and thus had an advantage over younger, in-state CBD companies. Each plan on opening locations in central Texas. They will be required to pay a licensing fee of $488,520 after DPS gives final approval to each facility.
Fewer licensed dispensaries isn't just a problem for local businesses, but also for Texans seeking effective treatment for severe epilepsy, Coleman said.
"The high cost of producing CBD combined with the relatively small market that exists in Texas will drive up prices to astronomical levels," he said. With few dispensaries spread out across state, "only a fortunate few patients who can afford it will be able to get the medicine."
Coleman estimates that right now, there are about 40,000 epileptic people in Texas who could benefit from the use of CBD, and that 22 dispensaries—not 3— might meet that demand. Under DPS's current plan, people living in rural areas far away from the urban-centered dispensaries will have to drive hours to get treatment.
Technically, DPS is following the statute set up by Compassionate Care Act, which required a minimum of three state dispensaries. DPS also says on their website that “a decision to increase the number will be made if and when it is determined that more licenses are required in order to ensure reasonable statewide access.”
The number of dispensaries isn't the only problem dogging the Compassionate Care Act, signed into law in 2015 by Gov. Greg Abbott. As it is currently written, doctors must "prescribe" CBD to patients. But that means they risk losing their DEA license as pot is classified alongside heroin or LSD. Sen. Jose Menéndez tried to fix the glaring typo this legislative session with proposed SB 269, but it failed to even get a hearing in the Texas Senate.
Despite the ongoing battle within the state to jumpstart a nascent medical marijuana market, Coleman is hopeful for the future of the industry and what it could mean for patients who suffer from a whole slew of chronic diseases.
"CBD extracts are so powerful and effect people in such unique ways," said Coleman. "You would never expect marijuana to work on epilepsy, to shrink tumors, to cure PTSD, but it does. We need to continue to study this drug and figure out how it works."