In this Nov. 29, 2018, photo Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation CEO Morris Denton, right, inspects plants in the dispensary's growing room with cultivation technician Robert Russin in Manchaca, Texas. Denton is pushing lawmakers to allow more dispensaries for medical marijuana and to ease restrictions.

After one failed treatment after another, Sharlene Hernandez was at a dead end.

Her 10-year-old autistic son wasn't speaking, barley eating and would play with and spread his feces around the house. Nothing was helping her child.

One day, a friend in a similar situation recommended THC via a doctor's prescription. Willing to try anything, Hernandez went for it.

“We were just at a loss and I don’t know what it was about the THC, but it has helped so much,” said a tearful Hernandez.

In eight months, her son has started speaking cognitively on his own, eating again and rarely plays in his diaper.

Hernandez is one of many advocates pushing state lawmakers to reduce the regulations surrounding medical marijuana, including giving doctors more authority to prescribe THC, expanding the list of conditions for a prescription and allowing for more dispensaries.

As of now, it is difficult to obtain.

Hernandez's son needed to visit a special neurosurgeon for a prescription. For refills, she has to make an appointment to see a doctor each time, which has been difficult during the pandemic. She then has to drive one and a half hours to pick up the medication at Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation in Austin, one of only three legal dispensaries in the state. On top of that, she pays out of pocket because medical marijuana isn’t covered under her insurance.

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While Texas has legalized medical marijuana, the laws are restrictive. The Compassion Use Program, or CUP, which was created in 2015 and expanded in 2019, allows for low-level THC cannabis products for those who suffer from medical conditions such as epilepsy, seizures, terminal cancer, multiple sclerosis, incurable neurological disorders, autism and ALS.

“Let’s talk about it, let’s talk about how a plant is helping people and how we are crazy to not loosen up some of these laws,” Hernandez said. “We take aspirin for headaches, but we limit people on other ways they can try to feel better?”

Morris Denton, the CEO of Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation, said medical marijuana has the potential to help thousands of Texans. Denton wants to see CUP expanded again to include more conditions like PTSD, AIDS, most cancers and chronic pain. Patients can only qualify for the program based on specific diseases, rather than qualifying for the similar symptoms a patient may see from a different disease.

“The point of medical marijuana is to help the symptoms, which is why when some diseases are approved and not others, it doesn’t make sense,” Denton said. “Why not let a doctor do their job and decide? We put so much trust in our medial community and let science lead us through a pandemic, but we can’t let the medical professionals decide if cannabis is appropriate?”

Denton connects patients like Hernandez with lawmakers because “it is hard to say no once legislators hear what people are going through.”

Hernandez, who said she was against cannabis in the past, plans to speak before Texas legislators to tell her story during the upcoming session.

“No parent wants to see their child go through this and this can help take off so much stress and pressure if we improve the system,” Hernandez said. “People don’t have to make medical marijuana such a big deal.”

Denton spends a lot of his time speaking with legislators and hosts tours at his facilities. He said many lawmakers have never seen a dispensary’s process firsthand and don't know how much science and care goes into producing THC.

“Seeing is believing and I have found that a lot of people have a certain point of view of what exactly we do and it’s often wrong,” Denton said. “People are prisoners of their own experiences especially when it comes to cannabis, so we need to change the skepticism and stigma around it.”