An effort aimed at increasing the number of companies allowed to sell a nonpsychoactive form of medical marijuana in Texas apparently has fallen victim to a temporary case of cold feet.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which regulates the state's restrictive medical marijuana program, said Wednesday that it isn't accepting any applications for new permits -- even though it announced three weeks ago that an application window would be open from Oct. 1 through Nov. 1. Currently, only three companies have licenses under the state's so-called Compassionate Use Program.
The agency offered little public explanation for its policy change. But state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, said she has been told that DPS is still trying to determine how many new licenses might be needed because of recent changes to the program that has increased the pool of potential patients.
"I think it is just probably going to be delayed," Klick said of the permitting process. She said she heard about the cancellation Wednesday morning and subsequently sought an explanation from DPS officials.
Steve Moninger, a senior policy analyst in the agency's regulatory services division, told the American-Statesman on Wednesday that the application process for new permits is suspended "effective immediately," and DPS will " review the program and the need for any additional licenses again in the coming months."
He said he wasn't authorized to provide additional information, except to say that the agency has "an obligation under (state law) to assess the number of patients and the level of coverage across the state, and that is what we are doing at this time.”
Before the cancellation, the month-long application window that began last week was expected to draw substantial interest from companies in the burgeoning legal marijuana industry across the country, based on the possibility that Texas eventually might expand its restrictive medical marijuana program and increase the potency of the products allowed to be sold under it.
A total of 43 business and investment groups applied for Texas licenses in 2017, when the state first began rolling out its medical cannabis program under the 2015 Compassionate Use Act that established it. But the Department of Public Safety only approved three, the minimum mandated by the law. Austin-based Compassionate Cultivation is among them.
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, a pro-cannabis advocacy group, said it's doubtful that the agency has received any new applications since the application window opened Oct. 1 -- but only because of lengthy amount of time it takes prepare an application. She said many companies likely have been developing their applications with the aim of submitting them by what had been the deadline on Nov. 1.
“I know of several businesses and individuals that were working on their applications, and I'm sure they are very disappointed by this," Fazio said. "I'm sure people have spent a lot of money and time on this."
She called it highly irregular that the Department of Public Safety would suspend the process midway through its own application window.
"I'm surprised by this," Fazio said. "It’s a very unusual thing to happen -- for them to have not done their due diligence to move forward with the application process" that they started.
During the recent session of the Texas Legislature that ended in May, state lawmakers added a number of ailments to the list of conditions eligible for nonpsychoactive medical marijuana under the Compassionate Use Program, including all forms of epilepsy and seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer and autism, which has increased the number of potential patients.
Originally, only patients suffering from a single ailment — intractable epilepsy — were eligible to obtain medical cannabis from the state’s three dispensaries.
Medical cannabis dispensed in Texas still can't contain more than 0.5% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the high-inducing component of marijuana. The level is barely more than the 0.3% THC contained in many hemp-derived cannabis products that are widely available throughout the state in retail shops and corner stores.