At most, though, the economic impact will be quite modest, says Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economics professor focused on marijuana policy. Initially, the dispensary will only employ about a dozen people, and the products will be available for delivery only, via nondescript white vans. Plus, the number of doctors prescribing the drug is limited, and the number of patients who can afford cannabis oil—which will not be covered by insurance since it is still classified as a Schedule I narcotic—may be quite low.“If you tax medical marijuana, you can always collect tax revenue, but the true employment numbers, the GDP in the county, will hardly change at all,” Miron says. “Selling low-THC marijuana is like low-alcohol drinks: Nobody wants it aside from those who need it, and the market for those who need it isn’t huge and the number who can actually afford it is even smaller.”
But with the market for marijuana expected to grow three- or fourfold in the next seven years, many believe this is really just the beginning. Despite Governor Greg Abbott and other state politicians’ insistence that the Texas Compassionate Use Act is not the first step toward broader legalization, it’s likely going to be pretty tempting for legislators to expand the laws once legal CBD revenues start coming into the state. “On the medical side, it’s just a matter of time,” says Franklin Snyder, a Texas A&M University law professor who taught one of the first marijuana law classes in the country. “The evidence is accumulating about the benefits, and the drug is so much less dangerous than the alternatives. We have a nationwide opioid epidemic right now, and the fact that this could be a way to cut back on prescribing those drugs is going to propel this further.”
Any expansion would likely be a slow process. As it is, per federal law, doctors in Texas could be risking their prescribing rights by recommending CBD to their patients, which is likely why, according to the DPS, only seven doctors have signed up for the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas so far. And marijuana’s future in Texas won’t be helped by its uncertain legal status at the federal level: Last week, the Justice Department rescinded a policy instated under President Obama that steered prosecutors away from bringing any charges in states with permissive marijuana laws.
Still, Knox Medical, when contacted after the rescission, said it was proceeding with its plans under the assumption that the policy shift wouldn’t change much in Texas. Snyder doesn’t think the company is being overly optimistic: He expects the DOJ’s new position to have a negligible bearing on a state where prosecutors have demonstrated little interest in cracking down on CBD. (He says it might be a different story for “states with recreational-use and broad medical-marijuana programs like California's, where you can buy doobies to deal with your headaches.”)
As federal policy gets hashed out, the folksy Schulenburg location, the benefits to sick children, and the suit-wearing Knox executives could all have a powerful effect on public opinion. “They made a savvy choice putting the dispensary there,” Snyder says. “There’s something about Schulenburg that sounds very ordinary and Texas-like, reassuring in a way that, say, downtown Austin does not.”