For the second day in a row, the Texas House of Representatives has advanced marijuana reform legislation, approving a bill on Wednesday to significantly expand the state’s medical cannabis program and a separate proposal to reduce penalties for possessing marijuana concentrates.
A broader cannabis decriminalization measure is also set to be taken up by the chamber on Thursday.
Advocates have been closely monitoring the House as members consider a slew of reform bills this session. This week is proving especially busy for drug policy in the Lone Star State, where legislators in the House Public Health Committee on Monday also approved a measure requiring the state to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.
The medical cannabis expansion proposal that passed the chamber on second reading on Wednesday would add cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as conditions that could qualify people for the state’s limited medical cannabis program. It passed in the House Public Health Committee earlier this month.
The legislation would further allow the Department of State Health Services to add more qualifying conditions via administrative rulemaking. And it would also raise the THC cap for medical marijuana products from 0.5 percent to five percent.
As originally brought to the floor, the bill would have only allowed PTSD as a qualifying condition for military veterans, but its sponsor, Rep. Stephanie Klick (R), introduced an amendment to allow anyone with PTSD to access medical cannabis. That was approved without objection.
“Believe it or not, the number [of people with PTSD] is actually higher for survivors of sexual assault, than it is for veterans,” she said. “And we need to include them, in that sexual assault is more likely to cause PTSD than any other event.”
But advocates want even broader expansions to the medical cannabis law than would be brought about under the current bill.
“HB 1535 expands our state’s current program, but still leaves behind most patients who can benefit from cannabis,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Texans deserve a comprehensive medical cannabis program similar to what New Mexico, Oklahoma, and 34 other states have established for their citizens.”
Jax Finkel of Texas NORML said that the PTSD expansion is an “extremely important” change for patients and she hopes advocates “will be able to further improve this legislation with recommended amendments in the Senate.”
Klick said her floor amendment also “clarifies chronic pain as a qualifying condition” by removing the possibility medical cannabis could be recommended for “acute” pain.
The House approved the amended measure in a voice vote. Another vote on third reading is expected in the coming days to formally send it to the Senate.
The other bill, which cleared the chamber by a vote of 108-33, would create a new drug schedule for products containing THC that would carry slightly lower penalties compared to where they are currently classified. But possession of up to two ounces of concentrates would still be a class B misdemeanor that does still carry the threat of jail time.
The bill cleared the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee earlier this month and was approved on a second reading on Tuesday before getting final approval Wednesday.
Advocates have been encouraged with the progress they’ve seen this session, and there’s still more to come this week.
On Thursday, the House will vote on another reform bill that would decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, making the offense a class C misdemeanor that does not warrant jail time. Beyond that, the legislation would end the threat of being arrested for the low-level possession and gives people the opportunity to avoid a conviction by providing for deferrals and dismissals.
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Earlier this month, the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee also discussed legislation that would make certain changes to the state’s hemp program, including imposing rules related to the transportation and testing of consumable hemp products.
While the Texas legislature has historically resisted most cannabis reforms, there are signs that this session may be different.
House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said during a Texas Young Republicans event last month that while he wouldn’t be able to distinguish marijuana from oregano, he said, “I understand the issue.”
The speaker said that he voted for a limited medical cannabis legalization bill during his freshman year in the legislature, and his support for the reform is partly based on the fact that he has a “sister with severe epilepsy, and small amounts of CBD oil makes a big difference in people’s lives.”
Phelan also noted that he was a “joint author—no pun intended” of cannabis decriminalization legislation last session.
“I was able to go back home and explain it, and it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “To me, it’s a reasonable criminal justice reform issue.”
Texans’ support for legalizing marijuana has grown significantly over the past decade, according to a poll released last month.
Sixty percent of state voters now back making cannabis legal “for any use,” the University of Texas and Texas Tribune survey found. That compares to just 42 percent who said the same back in 2010.
Leaders in both chambers of the legislature have recently indicated that they anticipate more modest proposals to be taken up and potentially approved this session, particularly as it concerns expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program.
Phelan said he thinks “the House will look at” reform measures this year, including bills to legalize for adult use. He said the lawmakers will likely “review those again, and some will get traction, some will not.” However, the Senate remains an obstacle for comprehensive reform.
Legislators in the state prefiled more than a dozen pieces of cannabis legislation ahead of the new session. That includes bills that would legalize recreational marijuana, allow high-THC cannabis for medical use and decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana.
That said, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, has killed prior efforts to enact reform in the state, raising questions about the prospects of far-reaching changes advancing in the chamber.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.