AUSTIN (Nexstar) — An effort to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana appeared on the ballot recently in another Texas community, and the results turned out differently than similar initiatives in other Texas cities.

On May 5, voters in Lubbock overwhelming rejected Proposition A by a margin of 30 percentage points — 65% opposed the measure, while 35% supported it. If approved, it would have told police to stop arresting people for having less than four ounces of marijuana in most cases. The proposed reform drew loud opposition from local conservative leaders, like Texas Rep. Carl Tepper.

He explained why he believed the effort failed there, while six other Texas cities — Austin, Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos — already approved similar decriminalization measures.

“Because Lubbock has common sense,” Tepper said Thursday. “People from Lubbock travel a lot. We’re a great place to live, but our folks like to go out of town for vacation. Again, they’ve been to Portland; they’ve been to Denver; they’ve been in New York City. They have some common sense. Those other communities made a horrible, terrible mistake.”

Adam Hernandez with the group Lubbock Compact, which pushed for voters to approve Prop A, addressed whether he though the loss in Lubbock would affect the movement in Texas to bring about marijuana decriminalization reforms.

“We just weren’t able to get that voter turnout high enough, but in a lot of cities, you may not have that same issue,” Hernandez explained. “So I don’t think for the overall mission people should take this as sort of a bad sign if you will.”

So far the idea of decriminalizing marijuana has gone nowhere the Republican-controlled Texas Capitol. That’s why groups like Ground Game Texas are pushing local ballot measures to send a message to lawmakers and activate voters.

“Our big goals are basically two-part: democracy and social justice,” said Mike Siegel, the political director of Ground Game Texas. “You know in Lubbock, for example, we produced a report showing that the African American community represents about 30% of [marijuana] arrests, but only 8% of the population. So we know that there’s racially discriminatory enforcement practices related to marijuana reform, but the other thing is we want to give people reason to vote. We find that there’s a lot of cynicism about political parties and candidates and so when folks can go vote for an issue, that’s more relatable to a lot of people and will give them a reason to go to the polls.”

One change that’s likely to come next year during the regular legislative session, though, is making it harder for cities to get these kinds of measures on a ballot. Tepper said he’s already planning to introduce such a measure.

“We’re all looking at closing that loophole so that you can no longer introduce something into a municipal referendum that would in the end be counter to state law,” Tepper said. “It’s hard to make an idea into law, but we’re going to be attempting to get that one through.”

The Austin chapter of the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals (TAAP) held its annual symposium Thursday and Friday at the Austin Southpark Hotel. Various sessions and experts are gathering there to share the latest, best ways to shape addiction treatment.

Brittany Bass, the president of Austin TAAP, said conversations are happening about what could happen during next year’s regular session. She said Thursday she’d like lawmakers to finally legalize fentanyl test strips, pointing to Austin police recently detecting fentanyl in marijuana after a deadly surge in local overdoses.

“We really need access to things like fentanyl test strips so that as we see more marijuana come on the streets, people have access to make sure that there’s not fentanyl in it,” Bass said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton previously announced he’s suing five of the cities where voters approved these marijuana decriminalization measures. Leaders with Ground Game Texas shared Thursday they would intervene in Austin’s case to defend the city’s results.

Harker Heights is not facing this same legal scrutiny, though, because the City Council voted to repeal the ordinance approved by that community’s voters almost immediately after the election.

However, two other cities could be the next to join them in this wave of locally-driven reform. Advocacy groups are working to collect enough signatures for this to appear on ballots in both Dallas and Lockhart.

When it comes to Texas voters’ feelings about marijuana legalization, pollsters from the University of Texas and The Texas Politics Project have regularly asked people about this.

According to the December 2023 statewide poll, a plurality of voters (34%) said marijuana possession should be legal in medical purposes only. Meanwhile, 30% said having small amounts for any purpose should be legal. Full legalization of marijuana had the support of 19% of the respondents, while 17% said it should not be legal in any circumstance.

Cruz gets grief from Senators over push to pass bipartisan FAA bill

A show of bipartisanship in Washington helped Senators pass a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The $105-billion bill aims to improve customer service and safety for air travelers.

The deal came Thursday night, just hours before a deadline that could have led to the FAA furloughing thousands of workers. It still needs approval in the House.

One challenge to passing a major piece of legislation is the work to keep members from stalling the bill by adding amendments or making moves to block progress unless their own priorities are added. One Senator who played a key role in managing the progress for the FAA bill is someone who has a reputation for being the one who normally does the blocking: Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

Cruz is the ranking member of the Senate Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation. Cruz, along with Committee Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, took the lead in managing the bill, to make sure the package passed.

“It really was building bipartisan compromise. And I have to say the way this this bill moved forward, I think is a model for how legislation should move forward,” said Cruz in an interview with Nexstar.

Cruz elaborated on the process he and Cantwell followed to move the bill forward.

“We solicited from our colleagues their priorities, and this bill incorporates amendments priorities for over 200 different amendments that came from other senators from Republicans from Democrats addressing needs and concerns they have in their states. That process was an extended negotiation as we worked through incorporating those amendments,” Cruz said.

The measure passed 88 – 4 in the Senate. Cruz described it as “an overwhelming bipartisan vote.”

Cruz is not normally someone associated with bipartisanship. The Hill reported that some of his fellow senators gave him some ribbing as he worked to keep the bill on track. Basically, they found it funny, since Cruz is seen as usually the one blocking legislation.

“Well, it is true that my colleagues have enjoyed giving me some grief the past couple of weeks,” Cruz said. “I sort of laughed, because when I was managing the bill, I did it on the Senate floor, from Mitch McConnell’s desk and and I was threatening to carve my name in the drawer if they if they kept at it, which which is an old tradition that you sign your desk when you’re done serving,” Cruz remembered.

Full interview with Sen. Ted Cruz

He pointed out that the FAA reauthorization is the largest bill that he’s ever managed on the floor. Cruz said that’s because he’s only recently reached the level of seniority in the Senate that gives him the clout to manage a major bill.

But despite the perception, Cruz maintains that he has a track record of working to pass bipartisan legislation.

“You ask if it’s something new? And I would say actually, no, it is not,” Cruz said.

Still, Cruz quickly made a point to attack Democrats.

“My job for 12 years has been to fight for 30 million Texans all across our state. And that entails a number of things. One thing it entails is fighting against bad policy. So if they’re policies that hurt Texas, whether they were coming from Barack Obama, or Chuck Schumer or Joe Biden, I’ve been proud to lead the fight against them,” Cruz said. He accused Democrats of pushing for “open borders” as well as “job-killing regulations” and attacking the energy industry in Texas.

Cruz said the FAA bill is something that is good for Texas. The legislation is expected to bring billions of dollars in investments in airports and infrastructure in the state, as well as much-needed safety improvements.

“The FAA bill, it so happened, it is the 100th bill that I have authored and passed into law,” Cruz said. He’s listed as a cosponsor of the bill, with Cantwell as the bill’s sponsor.

“And so this has been something I’ve been doing the entire time drafting legislation, getting bipartisan support for that legislation, passing it into law,” Cruz said.

The emphasis on bipartisanship comes as Cruz faces an election challenge in November.

Congressman Colin Allred, a Dallas Democrat, is campaigning on his record of working across the political aisle to pass legislation. He’s also made a point of highlighting some of Cruz’s more divisive work, like the Senator’s popular partisan podcast.

“While Ted Cruz was recording podcasts, I was working to pass bipartisan bills to keep our communities safe and lower health care costs,” Allred wrote in a recent post on social media.

The race between Cruz and Allred is expected to be competitive. Campaign finance reports show Allred outpacing the incumbent Senator in fundraising. But recent history may favor Cruz. Republicans have dominated statewide elections for decades. Allred is trying to become the first Texas Democrat to win a statewide election in 30 years.

Backroom Botox a ‘wild west’ in Texas

She remembers feeling dizzy and then, what seemed like seconds later, bright lights.

“I felt like I was in a dream,” she said. “Then waking up, I just saw everyone was – was panicking.”

She had fainted, and an EMS report detailed she had a five-minute seizure and was vomiting.

It’s not the result she expected from her decision, on a whim, to get Botox. She told KXAN she saw a social media post about a summer deal and drove from a nearby town to Dublin, a small city north of Austin, to get her first injection in the back room of a store.

Almost 3,700 people live in Dublin, the Irish Capital of Texas (KXAN Photos)

It’s not illegal for someone to inject Botox — in fact, a KXAN investigation uncovered anyone in Texas can get certified to be an injector and practice anywhere. But because of what happened at the store, Dublin police are now investigating whether the injector was “practicing medicine without a license” — and hoping to shape the future of safety in the state.

“We went specifically for a lip flip. So just Botox in my lips,” said the woman, who wanted her privacy to be protected because “It’s such a small town… everyone knows everyone… everything gets spread pretty easily.” 

She recalled walking through a store towards the back room, a small space like a closet with a curtain for privacy. She described feeling fine after getting the injections in her bottom lip but said as soon as the injector started on the top one, she knew something was wrong.

		Dublin EMS report states woman who got Botox in her lips had a seizure after several injections. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

Dublin EMS report states woman who got Botox in her lips had a seizure after several injections. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

“The injector did ask our EMS staff, you know, ‘What do I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?’ Well, the only way to make sure this doesn’t happen again, is to, you know, ensure that your patient qualifies for the injection,” Dublin Police Chief Cameron Ray said.

The town of almost 3,700 people has a police force of 10 sworn officers. The department has been investigating this case for months. Since the injector hasn’t been charged with anything at this time, KXAN is not naming her or the store. 

“We will handle any charges that come to the person who did the injection,” Ray explained.

		Dublin Police Department is investigating and will take the case to the District Attorney's Office when it is complete. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

Dublin Police Department is investigating and will take the case to the District Attorney’s Office when it is complete. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

He added that they’ll take the case to the District Attorney’s office once their investigation is complete, pushing for accountability and, ultimately, oversight across the state.

“The goal in this investigation is to spur change to the system,” he said.

Botulinum toxin, commonly called Botox, can be used to treat medical or cosmetic concerns like facial wrinkles, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection said. The agency warned it can have adverse effects including botulism, which is a rare but serious illness caused by the toxin attacking the body’s nerves and causing blurred vision, difficulty breathing and muscle paralysis. 

In Texas, Botox injectors must have someone licensed in medicine supervising them, like a physician assistant, an advanced practice registered nurse or a doctor serving as a “medical director” in case there are complications. 

The injector in the Dublin case had completed training offered by Texas-based MySpaLive, according to the company’s attorney. Police explained the company’s medical director listed online back then was a pediatrician in Tyler – more than three hours away – who hasn’t returned KXAN investigators’ repeated calls and emails.

“When you’re 190 – 200 miles away, how are you going to have direct oversight if complications arise out of that injection?” Ray said.

		Dublin's Police Chief Cameron Ray hopes this case shapes legislation which will provide oversight in an industry that largely operates unregulated. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

Dublin’s Police Chief Cameron Ray hopes this case shapes legislation which will provide oversight in an industry that largely operates unregulated. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

The company’s attorney would not respond to questions about the specific case for privacy reasons but said in an email that MySpaLive “does not provide any medical procedures” and has developed an app to connect injectors with a licensed medical practitioner without having to go into an office. The attorney added that the practitioner can then supervise and authorize an injection.

Dublin police would only confirm medical staff was not at the shop the day of the emergency. Other steps that might have been taken are part of an ongoing investigation.

KXAN investigators made two trips to Dublin to talk to the injector about the medical emergency.

WATCH: For months, KXAN investigative reporter Arezow Doost and producer Dalton Huey worked to track down the Dublin Botox injector police say was involved in a medical emergency at her shop. Scroll for more video.

On the first trip in March, KXAN stopped by the store where police said she was doing the cosmetic procedures. The store owner showed KXAN four training certificates framed on a wall near where the injections take place. She said the injector was not there at the time. KXAN called, texted the injector and went by her home. She had agreed to meet with our team but then changed her mind. 

            framed certificates on shelf

Image of multiple certificates from MySpaLive and Master Injectors and vials of fluids displayed at retail store in Dublin, Texas (KXAN Photos)

“My attorney that handles all my business said I am not interested in interviewing,” she responded back in a text. 

On the second trip to Dublin in April, KXAN went back to the store to try to talk to her one more time about the open investigation, but she didn’t want to talk. KXAN was able to reach her attorney after several attempts, but he said they have no comment. 

In Texas, there is not a state licensing board or regulatory agency that directly oversees the people, supervising physicians, and practices of those who operate in the medical spa industry and provide Botox injections.

KXAN found Texas is one of only four states in the U.S. that doesn’t have a dedicated state agency with direct oversight that requires various degrees of licensing or registration for med spas.

Med Spa Licensing Laws by State

U.S. map showing each state’s licensing requirements to own and operate a medical spa. Hover over each state to see licensing details and the State agency that regulates the industry. (App users can interact with the map on Source: Yocale research incorporating State Medical Boards and various market research resources. (KXAN Interactive/Dalton Huey)

As a result, the Texas Medical Board and local law enforcement agencies must rely on complaints or referrals to take action against individuals and physicians who are illegally or improperly running med spas.

KXAN asked the TMB about the current laws regarding Botox injectors, med spas, and physicians who serve as medical directors and ultimately delegate authority that allows others to provide Botox and non-surgical cosmetic procedures.

“There could always be more done to protect patients,” TMB stated, and further clarified that while it cannot lobby for or against a law change, it is aware of trending concerns and has been proactive in addressing complaints related to “Botox parties” and physician supervision/delegation in the med spa industry.

“If a complaint is received, the agency will investigate the supervising physician (if one is involved) and those involved in such activity,” it explained. “If there is no physician involved, TMB does also have cease and desist authority against those involved in this type of activity.” 

		In Texas, anyone can get trained to administer Botox as long as it's under the supervision of a medical professional. (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

In Texas, anyone can get trained to administer Botox as long as it’s under the supervision of a medical professional. (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

Additionally, law enforcement can pursue criminal charges for unlicensed practice of medicine, a third-degree felony offense in Texas.

“Everybody says law enforcement is there to protect and serve. Well, I believe, in this instance, we’re doing that protection by holding those people accountable,” Ray said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would be, you know, investigating what somebody’s injecting in people’s lips.”

When law enforcement, Texas Medical Board take action

Last month, the Houston Police Department arrested a man on three felony charges of practicing medicine without a license or permit causing harm, as well as a fourth charge of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury.

According to court records, the man owned a med spa in the Houston area, and his title listed in court documents was “Injector.”

Court records state he “intentionally and knowingly” practiced without a medical license and caused harm to multiple patients after injecting an unknown substance into his clients.

KXAN found the same man was issued a cease and desist order by TMB in 2020.

The cease and desist states the man “admitted to administering skin treatment injections including Botox for a period of several years and without proper physician involvement.”

KXAN asked TMB how it ensures that a cease and desist order is followed.

In response, TMB stated: “A cease and desist primarily serves as a notice to the public regarding the individual. This information is also referred to law enforcement. Continued violations of a cease and desist can impose civil penalties recoverable by the Office of the Attorney General.”

TMB further clarified that local law enforcement and prosecutors would be the only authority to pursue criminal charges.

KXAN reviewed TMB disciplinary records since 2018 and found 63 actions taken against individuals and/or physicians specifically related to med spas and/or non-surgical cosmetic procedures.

  • A former physician in San Antonio who worked at the spa under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and used unsafe practices, such as giving injections without gloves, giving injections in bathrooms, recapping used needles, refilling used syringes for patient use, disposing of sharps in a trash can and leaving vitamins out in the open in patient care areas.
  • A Dallas man practicing medicine without a license who the board found performed injections on a patient who later was treated by a physician for infection as a result of those injections.
  • A Houston woman practicing medicine without a license who the board found promoted and performed nonsurgical cosmetic procedures, including facial injections, which resulted in injury to one patient’s nose/ face requiring a corrective procedure by a physician.
  • A physician disciplined for failing to adequately delegate and/or supervise for the treatment of two patients who suffered complications following procedures provided at a med spa where he served as supervising medical director.

Examples of situations that led to Texas Medical Board disciplinary action for individuals and/or physicians related to medical spas or the administration of non-surgical cosmetic procedures. Source: Texas Medical Board (KXAN Interactive/Dalton Huey)

Of those 63 actions, 55 were cease and desist orders issued against individuals for engaging in the unlicensed practice of medicine by providing non-surgical cosmetic procedures without proper physician or midlevel oversight.

           63 cease and desist orders since 2018

The remaining eight actions taken by TMB were against licensed physicians for improper supervision or delegation of cosmetic procedures.

Each of the physicians received a public reprimand, were issued a monetary fine of $2,000-$10,000, and were required to complete various amounts of continuing medical training.

Over 75% of the TMB’s actions were taken since 2021, further supporting the “trending concerns” TMB acknowledged related to “Botox parties,” and physician supervision/delegation in this industry.

Texas Medical Board Disciplinary Actions

Number of actions the Texas Medical Board took against individuals providing non-surgical cosmetic procedures and/or their practices associated with med spas in Texas from 2018 to March 2024. Source: Texas Medical Board. (KXAN Interactive/Dalton Huey)

From 2018 to 2022, TMB actions grew from three to a high of 15. As of March of this year, the TMB has already taken action against 11 individuals and/or physicians for their roles in providing non-cosmetic surgical procedures.

Lawmakers have heard of these investigations and concerns and tried to take action.

		State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, plans on refiling oversight legislation this coming session. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, plans on refiling oversight legislation this coming session. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed legislation during the 2023 regular session which would have prohibited estheticians and cosmetologists from doing injections — including Botox — unless they are licensed in medicine or certified and have medical supervision. The bill stalled after passing the Senate, but he plans to re-file next session. 

“I think it is incumbent that we as a state, protect Texans and their health and safety and welfare when it comes to any sort of invasive procedure,” he explained.

Schwertner, who is an orthopedic surgeon, explained the medical board can take disciplinary action against doctors authorizing injections. He added that current law has no oversight when it comes to estheticians or cosmetologists who fall under the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. His bill aimed to give that agency authority to discipline those professionals if needed. 

“Any individual that is involved in the care — in this case, the cosmetic care of an individual — is held accountable when something goes wrong, and that they should have had the proper level of education, experience and training,” he said. 

As Texas considers possibilities for oversight, warnings related to Botox are growing on a national level.

A recent outbreak of people experiencing harmful reactions after receiving injections of counterfeit or mishandled Botox has prompted investigations by the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and 11 state and local health departments.

states investigated by CDC

As of April 18, CDC has received reports of 22 individuals who from Nov. 4, 2023, to March 31, 2014, have experienced various symptoms of botulism:

various symptoms of botulism

Half of the 22 individuals required hospitalization, six of whom needed to be treated with botulism antitoxin due to concerns that the Botox could have spread beyond the injection site, the CDC stated.

All 22 of these individuals reportedly received Botox from unlicensed or untrained providers and/or in a non-healthcare setting, such as homes and spas, according to the CDC.

The Texas Department of State Health Services told KXAN there is currently one Texas case that meets CDC’s outbreak definition. According to DSHS, this is still an ongoing investigation and the Texas individual was treated and has recovered.

The FDA has also issued a black box warning for the medication used for Botox, which is the highest safety warning the agency requires. The warning is contained inside a box with a black border and provides a brief summary of the information that is critical for a prescriber to consider.

The effects of BOTOX and all botulinum toxin products may spread from the area of injection to produce symptoms consistent with botulinum toxin effects.”

FDA Black box warning for Botox

The FDA is also reviewing a petition by consumer group Public Citizen asking it to strengthen the risk warning language on all approved Botox products due to concerns of temporary paralysis, hospitalization and even death. The consumer group is pushing for the FDA to clarify that adverse effects could happen even at recommended dosages.

If someone is considering an injection of Botox, the CDC recommends that person always ask if the provider is licensed and trained to perform the injection and ask if the product is FDA-approved and acquired through a legitimate source.

“If in doubt, don’t get the injection,” the CDC said.

Even some in the industry think injectors need more oversight. It’s why Master Injectors exists, according to Chief Marketing Officer Mike Rocha. His Texas-based training company certifies injectors.

“These individuals are going to take training somewhere. If they don’t have a medical license, they’re going somewhere to get trained. We want them to train with us, because we’re going to teach them and train them properly and safely,” Mike Rocha said.

KXAN investigators learned that several months after the medical emergency in Dublin, that injector was certified with Master Injectors. The company explained she had only had that certification for a few weeks before it learned about the police investigation and revoked her certifications. 

Master Injectors allowed KXAN to attend a recent weekend training in San Antonio. It covered everything from having a clean treatment area, to how Botox should be stored, facial anatomy and where people can and can’t inject. There were several tests throughout the day. Trainers who are registered nurses also walked around and worked closely with smaller groups to make sure safety measures were followed and understood.

“A big reason that we wanted to start this training is that non-medical people can take it, so we wanted to make sure that they were trained properly in the anatomy, and the physiology and blood-borne pathogen training to make sure they had that background,” explained Brenda Rocha, who is the chief nursing officer and oversees all the training. 

Images of Master Injectors esthetic and cosmetic injectors training (KXAN Photos)

Training can cost upwards of $2,500 and not everyone becomes certified after a weekend. On average, the company said about 15% of a training class doesn’t get certified. 

“There have been people that — that I have turned away and said ‘I do not feel comfortable and do not feel like you are safe for the public and we cannot certify you,'” Brenda Rocha added. 

Master Injectors said it not only has oversight from a Medical Director who is an anesthesiologist with esthetics training out of Dallas but also from owner Brenda Rocha who is a registered nurse.

Master Injectors also works with compliance company Aesthetic Business Consulting to make sure protocols are in place for itself and its clients, like nurses looking over medical charts daily, overseeing products purchased, and making sure people getting the injections are receiving a medical exam.

“We’re looking at all their procedures, protocols, trainings, all of those things, just, you know, going through it with a fine-tooth comb, just to make sure that it’s meeting industry standards,” said Amber Bechthold, owner of the compliance company. 

KXAN investigators reached out to associations for estheticians, cosmetologists and med spas to ask them about their training and oversight but there have been no responses. 

“My plea to the public is ‘educate yourself, ask questions, don’t assume that somebody in a white coat or in scrubs is actually knowledgeable about what it is they’re proposing to do to you,'” said retired pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Patricia Aronin. 

Aronin is with Texas 400, a grassroots group of doctors advocating for patient safety across the state, who describes the current industry as the “wild west.” The nonprofit said it will be watching closely next session as Schwertner refiles the oversight legislation.

She added that it’s tough to track the size of this problem because people don’t always know how or where to file complaints and it can be embarrassing for some to share what happened. Complaints should be filed with the Texas Medical Board. 

Data KXAN obtained shows 91 complaints have been filed with the medical board since 2019 for things like Botox and other cosmetic procedures. The agency said it has nine open investigations related to improper providing of nonsurgical cosmetic procedures.

“Do you want to play Russian Roulette just because you don’t want your face to have wrinkles?” she said.

		After her medical emergency last summer, the woman said she could hardly stand up or walk around on her own. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost) 

After her medical emergency last summer, the woman said she could hardly stand up or walk around on her own. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost) 

The woman in Dublin who got the Botox said she’s had no complications since the medical emergency. She’s sharing her experience to warn others. 

“I think it’s definitely important to have proper training for sure, especially with… injections going into the face,” she said. “It’s a very scary thing. … I feel like it’s not something to be messed with.”

The injector in Dublin is still working. Police added that they are working to wrap up their investigation soon.

“If we’re able to, you know, shine the spotlight on this problem, we can work with our lawmakers to provide the government oversight that is needed for the safety of our citizens,” Ray said.