Is it inherently Texan to legalize marijuana?
July 5, 2017
(The original can be found
By Dom DiFurio, Web Producer
Lisa Pittman is one of the first attorneys in Texas to specialize in medical
marijuana law. She came to the industry not from the recreational side,
but as a mother seeking treatment for her child with epilepsy.
Pittman practices in Austin with Feldmann Nagel LLC, a Colorado law firm
with a cannibis practice, and she was involved in supporting Texas’
House Bill 2107, the state’s first medical marijuana bill to pass
committee. This is a conversation we had, condensed for clarity, about
what it's like to get involved in Texas' slow-growing world of
medical marijuana and the drug's future here.
How did you come to specialize in marijuana law?
In 2014, I was reading the
Senate Bill 339 [Texas’ Compassionate Use Act enacted in 2015] testimony of mothers
of children with epilepsy. My own daughter had seizures when she was little.
I had taken her to the top two pediatric neurologists in Houston and I
was given conflicting diagnoses, conflicting treatment plans. One of them
wanted to medicate her up to the gills and told me, 'I’m sorry
but you will not have the same child after this because of all the side
effects the medication would cause her.' I went through quite an odyssey
So when I was reading this testimony, I could truly empathize with the
treatment decisions these mothers were having to make, because you will
do anything for your child. I was fortunate that my daughter had only
occasional seizures, but I was reading about children that had 20 or 30
seizures a day. Just really devastating cases, and how they were going
to have to leave their families and their communities and their churches
and their schools to seek treatment in a state where this CBD [cannabidiol]
oil is legal, which has been shown to reduce or eliminate seizures in
certain cases of epilepsy.
That just lit the fire under me. This is a potential medication that’s
being withheld from these children. I’m gonna get involved; I can’t
let that stand. So I started to pay more attention to it on the down low;
I wasn’t really intending to pursue a career in it or anything.
Then, I found declining motivation and satisfaction in my work as a commercial
litigator. So, I started to look at opening a whole health wellness center
for women in Austin, called the Well Women Group. I wanted to provide
a real legitimate place for women to come learn about this, to provide
childcare on site. I decided to go to Denver to attend this conference
called Women Grow to find out more about cannabis.
Based on what I read on epilepsy I knew it had some success there. I just
wanted to find out more about it because to me cannabis was just another
plant that provides remedies.
I was telling the attorney in the office next to me what I was going to
do. He does some counsel work for
Feldmann Nagel out of Colorado, and he told me that they were looking to take their marijuana
practice national. So while I was out there I met them, purely out of
respect for him.
Just about every legal industry is dominated by men and it’s really
difficult for women to break that glass ceiling and to really excel as
leaders. Especially if you’re a mother.
When I was at the Women Grow conference, I noticed that there were only
a few lawyers there. I thought, well, hey, this might be a rare opportunity
in an industry that is not yet owned by any one demographic to break through
and blaze a trail as a leader and an early expert and authority on a niche topic.
What did your law firm see in Texas? Obviously, they saw a worthwhile opportunity
when they brought you on. A lot of people here think marijuana in Texas
Well, Texas is the prize. It is a huge market, second to California. It
is also considered a leader among the Southern states. If Texas were to
legalize, it would be very lucrative for anyone to be practicing law in
that area here. Although it was a ways off, with any great reward comes
great risk, and that’s coming in early and scoping out the market.
The firm was already here in this first round of legislation and working
For the next round of this legislative session, they were placing their
bets; they wanted boots on the ground here to continue that work they
had started a couple years ago.
When do you see actual businesses getting up and running under the current
Compassionate Use Program?
The Department of Public Safety is required to issue at least three licenses
to cultivators to begin producing medicine for a very small subset of
children with intractable epilepsy by September 1. This law was passed
in 2015. The regulations to implement the law were not finalized until
February of 2017. Now we are only a couple of months away from the deadline
to issue those three licenses, and the program is perhaps about to be
embroiled in some litigation because of how the application process and
the rules adoption procedure were handled.
You’ve said the Compassionate Use Program is inadequate and you think
full medical legalization is necessary. Why?
One of the inadequacies under the current law is that doctors have to prescribe
rather than recommend. A doctor cannot legally prescribe a Schedule I
substance. So that is a problem because it is a threat to their prescription
writing privileges and even their state license to practice medicine.
So who in their right mind would follow through with that?
Right. We’re probably going to see very few doctors willing to stick
their necks out for this. So there are groups working in Texas working
to fix that aspect. Perhaps in special session, but I’m not that
optimistic that will happen.
Also, the conditions need to be expanded to include a broader range of
illnesses and symptoms. The law needs to be changed to allow whole plant
medicine, instead of a legislatively spliced plant that only allows this
low THC, high CBD oil, which, by the way, won’t even treat some
of these children that the law is written to treat. The ones that have
the most serious cases of epilepsy need that THC. There’s something
about that THC compound that helps to eliminate the seizures.
Even if these little tweaks were made to the law to fix it, I don’t
believe the medicine would help a lot of them.
What does the public need to know about marijuana’s future in Texas?
Public opinion polling, especially that Quinnipac poll, is showing that
public approval of cannabis, whether decriminalization, or medical or
even recreational, is gaining unprecedented public support. And the sort
of reefer madness punitive attitude that we grew up with is starting to
fade. But politicians still think that their constituents think that way.
In concern for their next election, they’re fearful to vote for
So what I think really needs to change in Texas for us to see a change
in the future, is for the public to look at who their representatives
are, look at their voting records and make sure they get people into office
who are not afraid to vote for marijuana or who believe in its capacity
to help suffering.
Do you see a future for recreational in Texas?
I almost see the federal government descheduling it before Texas legalizes
a recreational concept. But on the other hand, because in our great republic
of Texas we believe in doing things our own way, there is the possibility
that Texas could do what some other states have done and simply treat
it like alcohol. And just have it be another highly regulated industry
that is able to be researched for medical reasons if need be. Or profited
upon by companies who are working in the industry and to reap the great
tax revenue from it.
So although the current political climate suggests we will never see recreational,
climates change and the tax revenue being brought in by other states isn’t
going to go unnoticed forever. There are a lot of business and political
interests in Texas that are very interested in creating a robust industry.
I actually believe the framework for the statute contemplates a free, open-market
system in a way that some of the other states that allow recreational
do not. Texas could take a turn and still has an infrastructure within
its statute to allow competition the way Texas enjoys and believes.
You’re saying it’s inherently Texan to legalize weed?
This Q&A was conducted, edited and condensed by Dallas Morning News
editorial board memeber Dom Difurio. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Pittman is a lawyer in with Feldmann Nagel in Houston specializing
in medical marijuana. Website: colo-lawyers.com
CORRECTION: The regulations to implement the Texas' Compassionate Use
Program were finalized in February 2017. A prior version of this story
incorrectly said 2015. Also, Lisa Pittman's office is in Austin, not Houston.