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Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is a non-profit dedicated to ensuring safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. ASA was founded in 2002 by medical cannabis patient, Steph Sherer, as a vehicle for patients to advocate for the acceptance of cannabis as medicine. ASA has local chapters throughout the United States, and in this series of interviews, we introduce you to those chapters and highlight some of the state-level work being done to advocate for patients’ access and rights. In this installment, Nico Murillo, the chair of the Dallas, Texas chapter, shares some advocacy highlights from the lone star state.
Can you tell us a little about your role as the Dallas, Texas Chapter Chair with Americans for Safe Access?
Nico Murillo: As the Texas chapter chair, it is my duty to lead the board on chapter activities and coordinate legislative call to actions. I handle the day-to-day communication with patients needing information about the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP), and if they may qualify.
How did you first get involved with ASA and advocacy work?
Murillo: I have been a supporter for medical cannabis for decades, but I felt that I needed to become more involved. I became active in advocacy work in 2017 during a Texas legislative session after entering the industry as an entrepreneur in 2016. I joined ASA because they are a patient focused advocacy group, and I felt this is what was needed to represent patients. ASA has a successful track record in patient advocacy, and we were happy to join the team and begin work.
What unique challenges do you face in Texas compared to other areas of the country?
Murillo: Texas legislation is challenging because we meet every two years on the odd year. This leaves very little time for us to make real change because we are competing with other bills that are just as important to Texans. We also have a very conservative base that lacks education on medical cannabis or remain ignorant to the building science and research for this effective medicine.
What are you most excited to have helped accomplish in Texas?
Murillo: We are most excited that our medical patients have a program that is growing, and medicine is accessible to many people. This comes by the success of patient’s voices and the advocacy work of many people. We are proud to be part of the global conversation in helping make medical cannabis recognized a medicine.
What projects are you working on currently?
Murillo: Currently, we are preparing for the 2023 legislative session and collecting patients’ testimonials.
The state of Texas received an F/26.14% score on the 2021 ASA State of the States report. How does the score compare to past reports?
Murillo: This is the first year we have been graded and we agree with the rating. Texas needs to do better.
How are you working toward implementing ASA’s recommendations for improvement?
Murillo: We will continue to work with legislators crafting better bills that represent patients. Also, we encourage social change through online education and outreach to our patient community. We help educate our patient advocates on how to interact with legislation in a productive manner.
Are there enough licensed medical cannabis retail locations in Texas to support patients?
Murillo: The short answer is no; the cost of medication is very high and leaves out many patients who cannot afford the high costs. If the state opened the program to more than three licensees, which only two are operating currently, this would drive down costs, and make medicine more accessible to patients.
Where do patients and advocates in Texas say they hope to see the most change?
Murillo: Most patients and advocates hope the costs of the medicine come down, that more qualifying conditions are added to the program, and that medication becomes more accessible.
How could someone best get involved or stay in touch with your chapter?
Murillo: The best way to contact our chapter is through our website or through social media, both are very responsive. We are always looking for volunteers and new members to join our family: www.txsafeaccess.org.