AUSTIN (Nexstar) — With thousands of Texans using medical cannabis, Texas’ Department of Public Safety is looking to expand and improve the state’s Compassionate Use Program (CUP).

On Thursday, the state launched a working group under the regulatory division of the program, aimed at finding ways to improve with input from patients, physicians and other stakeholders.

The CUP is an online registry of qualified physicians who can prescribe low THC to patients with specific medical conditions. Veterans make up a large portion of Texans who are impacted by medical conditions which could qualify them for the CUP program.  

The group will initially consist of 10 members — three patient representatives, three qualified and currently registered physicians who are Texas residents (one physician must have direct experience related to health care needs of veterans and one physician must have pediatric experience), three dispensing organizing representatives and one public member. 

Military veteran Gene Tallman oversees one of Texas’ three medical cannabis operators, goodblend, a subsidiary of parent company Parallel. He said he is pleased by DPS’ efforts to improve accessibility to medical cannabis. 

“Two of the biggest barriers are accessibility, so access to doing transactions, and the cost of entry of the program,” Tallman said. “We hear from veterans all the time, you know, it’s difficult with the cost of entry.”

To help improve access, goodblend is expanding their pickup locations, offering discounts for veterans and introducing the Veteran Impact Program beginning Dec. 1, which will cover the cost of medical cannabis prescription for 200 military veterans who qualify for CUP. 

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, anywhere from 11-20% of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have PTSD. While there is research that suggests medical cannabis is used to alleviate symptoms of PTSD, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs does not support the use. 

Either way, advocates say the existence of this program can help veterans by giving them the option to safely try medical cannabis for treatment. 

“Giving veterans an alternative type of medication versus opioids for pain or even PTSD. It’s a more healthy alternative,” Tallman said. “The rates of death associated with opioids is astronomical across the country, and especially in Texas…you don’t see that with medical cannabis.” 

Applications for the work group membership can be submitted using this application form. The application window will close at 5 p.m. CST on Nov. 18.