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Texas Lawmakers Pre-File Marijuana Bills For 2021 Session

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On the heels of five U.S. states voting to legalize marijuana in some form last week, lawmakers in Texas are getting a head start introducing a number of cannabis-related bills for next year, including several that would legalize it for adult use.

The legalization proposals are among at least 13 pieces of marijuana legislation pre-filed by lawmakers on Monday and Tuesday for the 2021 legislative session, which begins in January. Other bills would legalize high-THC cannabis for medical use, decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and put legalization before state voters on the ballot. Another would shield consumers from existing criminal laws for marijuana possession if they reasonably expected a product to be legal hemp.

Many of the bills would usher in big changes for Texas, which currently allows only certain forms of low-THC medical marijuana to treat specific conditions, but the legalization measure is by far the most sweeping. Sponsored by state Sen.-elect Roland Gutierrez (D), SB 140 would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and establish a commercial cannabis industry in the state.

Much of the incoming senator’s argument so far for the bill is financial. Gutierrez, currently a member of the state House of Representatives, said Monday that the measure could eventually bring a $3.6 billion boost to the state economy.

A report last month published by the law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP estimated that marijuana legalization in Texas could produce more than $1.1 billion in state tax revenue plus millions more in licensing and other fees. The state is estimated to face a $4.6 billion deficit when the Legislature convenes next year, the state comptroller said in July.

“There is going to be a budget shortfall to affect all Texans,” Gutierrez said in a statement Monday, according to Fox 29. “In order to best serve our state, we have to look at cannabis legalization as a solution and not keep going back to the taxpayers and raise their taxes.”

Technically speaking, the bill effectively would raise taxes on the state’s current marijuana consumers, although most would probably think that’s a good trade for not being criminalized any longer. Legal sales under Gutierrez’s legislation would carry a 10 percent tax on sales, which would fund schools, border security and local law enforcement. Gutierrez said the measure could also generate “at least 30,000 high-paying jobs” in the state.

Last month, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) jokingly said Texas should not legalize marijuana because he wanted tourists to come spend money in his state instead. “Make sure to consider Colorado first in any Texas decisions,” he quipped on Twitter.

Rep. Joseph Moody (D), who in past session has led efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession, is now pushing a separate broader cannabis legalization bill, HB 447.

This year, Rep. Erin Zwiener (D) will carry the decriminalization proposal, HB 441.

“This change has the opportunity to save local governments millions of dollars while keeping everyday Texans out of the criminal justice system,” she said on Twitter.

 

Monday was the first day for Texas lawmakers to pre-file legislation to be considered in next year’s legislative session, and more marijuana bills are expected to be introduced in coming weeks. Advocates are optimistic the activity means 2021 could be a big year for cannabis reform in Texas.

“We’re pleased to see a variety of cannabis related bills introduced so early in the pre-filing period,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment in an email. “Democratic and Republican lawmakers are making cannabis a priority,” she said, “which is a good sign for advocates as we prepare for the upcoming legislative session.”

The Texas Legislature only meets every other year, and in 2019 lawmakers considered a handful of major reforms, including decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana and expansion of the state’s limited medical cannabis program. By comparison, hemp, which is legal under federal law, includes all cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC.

The cannabis decriminalization bill passed the Texas House but later died in the Senate without a vote.

The state did legalize hemp that year, however, and advocates said they felt legislators took marijuana reform more seriously than ever.

Other measures pre-filed on Monday reintroduce the subject of medical marijuana reform.

HB 43, sponsored by Rep. Alex Dominguez (D), would expand the current limited program by removing the low-THC cap and allowing doctors to recommend marijuana for any medical condition they see fit.

SB 90, sponsored by Sen. José Menéndez (D), would also remove the state’s 0.5 percent THC limit on medical products and expand the program to include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as any other medical condition approved by state regulators. Lawmakers in 2019 rejected repeated calls from veterans and other groups last session to add PSTD to the state’s list of qualifying conditions.

A House bill (HB 94) from Rep. Ron Reynolds (D) would introduce similar language in that chamber.

A separate joint resolution (HJR 11) from Reynolds, meanwhile, would ask state voters to decide next November whether to amend the Texas Constitution to legalize the sale and use of medical marijuana.

Another joint resolution, HJR 13, by Rep. Terry Canales (D), would ask voters to legalize the use and commercial sale of recreational marijuana. Unlike the legalization Senate bill introduced by Gutierrez, Canales’s resolution is short on specifics. Voters in 2022 would cast ballots on whether to amend the constitution “to authorize and regulate the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis.” Details would come later.

Two other proposals focus on reducing state penalties for low-level marijuana possession.

HB 99, from Rep. Steve Toth (R), would reduce the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor, preventing arrest and instead imposing a civil fine. Such violations would no longer prevent Texans from obtaining driving licenses or automatically cause licenses to be suspended. HB 169, filed by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D), would similarly reduce possession of two ounces or less to a Class C misdemeanor, but it doesn’t include HB 99’s driver’s license protections.

Other decriminalization proposals that have been filed include HB 439 by Canales and SB 151 by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D).

Another bill prefiled on Monday wouldn’t affect penalties for possessing marijuana, but it would shield people who buy hemp or hemp-derived CBD products from existing criminal penalties for marijuana if those products were later found to contain too much THC.

HB 307, by Rep. Nicole Collier (D), would provide people charged with cannabis crimes an affirmative defense, allowing them to escape penalties if they could demonstrate that they reasonably thought the product was hemp. A product would need to be labeled as though it was legal hemp, and the person would need to have purchased it “from a retailer the person reasonably believed was authorized to sell a consumable help product.”

Prosecutors across Texas this year have dropped hundreds of low-level cannabis cases, due largely to difficulty in distinguishing between newly legal forms of hemp, which contain less than 0.3 percent THC, and illegal marijuana, which can be indistinguishable from hemp without laboratory testing. As the likelihood for cases to be prosecuted has dropped, arrests for simple cannabis possession have also fallen in many jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, popular support for marijuana reform, whether for medical or adult use, has only grown in recent years.

In 2018, even the state Republican Party added a marijuana decriminalization plank to its platform, although this year it was removed. The 2020 platform does still call for federal rescheduling and the expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program, however.

Polling of Texas voters, meanwhile, shows strong support for ending prohibition. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll published in July found that more than half (53 percent) of surveyed voters were in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use, while another 31 percent said they would legalize marijuana only for medical purposes. Only 21 percent of those surveyed opposed reducing penalties for simple possession.

In September, state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said he supported drastically expanding the state’s medical marijuana program. “If it’ll help somebody, I’m for it,” he said. “Whatever it is. I mean, a toothache, I don’t care.”

Across the country last week week, voters approved every major drug reform measure put before them, including marijuana measures in five states, decriminalization of all drugs in Oregon, and decriminalization of psychedelic plants in Washington, DC. Oregon also approved a separate measure legalizing psilocybin for therapeutic use.

The overwhelming popularity of drug reform among a largely divided electorate is already pushing other states to consider reform measures of their own, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment last week that the results are likely to encourage reform at the federal level.

On Monday, U.S. House Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) seemed to confirm that prediction by announcing that Congress will vote on legislation next month that would end federal cannabis prohibition.

This story has been updated to include additional pre-filed bills.

Congress Will Vote On Federal Marijuana Legalization Next Month, House Leadership Announces

Photo courtesy of Rick Proctor

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Alabama House Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill That Already Passed The Senate

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The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday approved a Senate-passed bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

After previously clearing two House committees last month, it passed the full chamber by a vote of 68-34.

The win came after opponents staged a lengthy filibuster on the floor earlier this week, drawing out the process by making a series of speeches and asking questions until the end of the day’s session at midnight approached. Those stalling tactics did not continue on Thursday.

Sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), the bill would allow people with qualifying conditions to access cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The full Senate approved the legislation in March.

To qualify for the program, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of about 20 conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. Regulators would not be able to independently add additional conditions, leaving that decision up to lawmakers in future sessions.

Prior to the vote on final passage, the House considered several floor amendments.

The body rejected proposals to place a limit of 10 milligrams of THC per dose for medical cannabis products, to remove depression as a qualifying condition and to enact a zero tolerance policy for drivers with THC in their systems. Another amendment that would have repealed the state program if marijuana is federally rescheduled, so that people would get medical cannabis from pharmacies instead of dispensaries, was also defeated.

Lawmakers did accept an amendment changing local control provisions from opt out to make it so that cities and counties would have to opt in to allowing medical cannabis businesses. They also made a change to name the bill after the deceased son of a lawmaker who previously sponsored medical marijuana legislation.

Because the Senate-passed measure has been revised in the House, it will have to go back to the the other chamber for additional consideration before being sent to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey (R).

Melson is the same lawmaker who sponsored similar legislation that was approved by the full Senate last year but which later died without any House votes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This latest proposal, SB 46, would establish an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to implement regulations and oversee licensing.

The House Judiciary Committee approved 10 amendments to the legislation during a hearing last month. For example, members agreed to scrap provisions providing reciprocity for out-of-state patients and reducing the percentage of marijuana tax revenue that would go to cannabis research from 30 to 15 percent.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Later, in the Health Committee, members approved a change that would add an annual registration fee for physicians who recommend cannabis. Another would give the state attorney general’s office access to a patient registry database.

That panel further accepted an amendment to remove fibromyalgia and menopause from the list of qualifying conditions and another to expand the number of institutions that are eligible for grants to research marijuana. A revision to develop a uniform flavor for all cannabis products was also attached.

Additionally, an amendment was approved to require dispensaries to have 24-hour security cameras operating in their facilities.

Advocates say they’re encouraged that medical cannabis reform is advancing in Alabama, but they’ve raised concerns about a number of aspects of the bill.

One problematic provision, advocates say, is that patients with chronic or intractable pain could only be recommended medical marijuana in cases where “conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.”

The bill also prohibits raw cannabis, smoking, vaping and candy or baked good products. Patients would instead be allowed to purchase capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories and topical patches.

Patients would be allowed to purchase and possess up to “70 daily dosages of medical cannabis.” Under an amendment approved on the Senate floor, the maximum daily dose was reduced from 75 to 50 milligrams. However, the amendment’s sponsor said it could be increased to 75 milligrams in some circumstances.

The revision also calls for a label on marijuana products to indicate that cannabis can cause drowsiness.

It also calls for a nine percent gross proceeds tax on medical marijuana sales.

Patients, caregivers and and medical cannabis businesses would receive legal protections under the proposal, preventing them from being penalized for activities authorized by the state.

For physicians to be able to recommend cannabis to patients, they would have to complete a four-hour continuing education course and pass an exam. The course would cost upwards of $500 and doctors would also be required to take refresher classes every two years.

Under the bill, regulators would be tasked with developing restrictions on advertising and setting quality control standards. Seed-to-sale tracking and laboratory testing would be mandated.

Other changes approved earlier in the Senate would add language to stipulate that gelatinous cannabis products cannot be sugar coated and insert provisions promoting good manufacturing practices and tamper-evident packaging.

Applications for cannabis business licenses would have to be accepted starting September 1, 2022 and then proceeded within 60 days.

The commission would be required to approve at least four cultivators, up to four processors, up to four dispensaries for the first year of implementation (more could be approved after that point depending on demand) and as many as five vertically integrated operators.

This bill’s reintroduction had been greatly anticipated by advocates. The Senate approved a separate medical cannabis bill in 2019, but the House later severely compromised it. The legislation as enacted would not have legalized patient access; rather, it set up a study commission to explore the issue and make recommendations.

The commission came back with its report in December 2019, with members recommending that medical marijuana be legalized.

There has been additional pressure on the legislature to enact legalization given that voters in neighboring Mississippi approved a medical cannabis reform initiative during the November election.

Separately, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill in March to decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, making it punishable by a $250 fine without the threat of jail time. But the measure later failed a procedural motion on the Senate floor.

Kansas Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill In Committee

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Texas House Approves Psychedelics Research Bill As Marijuana Reform Measures Also Advance

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The Texas House of Representatives on Thursday approved to a bill that would require the state to conduct a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA. This comes as numerous marijuana reform measures move through the legislature.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Alex Dominguez (D), passed by a vote of 134-12. It had advanced on second reading via a voice vote a day earlier. It now heads to the Senate.

The House Public Health Committee passed the bill with amendments last week. Members revised the measure to limit the scope of the state-funded study to focus on military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), rather than a broader list of conditions attached to the initial bill.

“We lose about 6,000 veterans every year—and since 2001, we have lost 114,000 of our veterans to PTSD and suicide,” Dominguez said on the floor before the second reading vote.

The legislation will do something that’s “sorely needed, and that’s taking a fresh look at what we can do to save the lives of our servicemen and women that have given their lives to this country,” he said. “We can make a difference, and we can send a message to Washington that they need to be doing more.”

The bill would require the state to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center. It was also amended to mandate a clinical trial into psilocybin for veterans with PTSD, in addition to a broader review of the scientific literature on all three substances.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The Health and Human Services Commission would have to submit quarterly reports on their progress, with a full report on the panel’s findings be due by December 2024.

Former Gov. Rick Perry (R), who also served as U.S. energy secretary, has called on lawmakers to approve the psychedelics legislation.

This is the latest drug policy reform bill to move through the legislature this session.

Last week, the House approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession, sending it to the Senate. It would make possession of up to one ounce of cannabis a class C misdemeanor that does not come with the threat of jail time.

Texas lawmakers have also recently passed proposals to expand the state’s medical marijuana program and reduce penalties for possessing cannabis concentrates.

The House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.

Lawmakers last week also sent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) a bill to clarify that a positive marijuana test alone is not sufficient criteria for removing a child from their home.

On Tuesday, the House approved 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.

But most of these proposals face an uphill battle in the Senate, where it remains to be seen whether legislators will have the same appetite for reform or what kind of changes they might push for in any particular bill. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, has killed prior efforts to enact cannabis reform in the state, raising questions about the prospects of far-reaching changes advancing in the chamber.

For example, shortly after the House approved a decriminalization bill in 2019, Patrick declared the measure “dead in the Texas Senate,” stating that he sides with lawmakers “who oppose this step toward legalization of marijuana.”

That same year, a spokesperson for the lieutenant governor was asked about a medical cannabis expansion bill and reiterated that he is “strongly opposed to weakening any laws against marijuana [and] remains wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.”

That’s all to say that, unless Patrick has a change of heart on the issue, there’s still a risk that he could singlehandedly quash the reform measures. But other legislative leaders do seem to be warming on the policy.

House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said during a Texas Young Republicans event in March 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.

And while Patrick’s record on the issue is a source of concern for advocates, he and other legislative leaders 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.

Patrick said flatly, “sure, that will be looked at this session” when asked about the prospect of expanding access to medical marijuana in January.

“We’re always listening on the health issues, but we’re not going to turn this into California,” he said, “where anybody can get a slip from the doctor and go down to some retail store and say, ‘You know, I got a headache today so I need marijuana,’ because that’s just a veil for legalizing it for recreational use.”

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.

Don’t Punish Universities That Study Marijuana, Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge In Letter To Congressional Leaders

Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Don’t Punish Universities That Study Marijuana, Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge In Letter To Congressional Leaders

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Universities that engage in cannabis research should not have to fear losing their federal funds just for doing science, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers recently said in a letter to congressional leaders.

The letter, led by Reps. Joe Neguse (D-CO) and Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), requests that language be included in the base bill of forthcoming appropriations legislation stipulating that funds from the Department of Education cannot be withheld solely because a given institution is “conducting or is preparing to conduct research” into marijuana.

“The issue at hand is whether the federal government’s prohibition of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) should be a basis for federal agencies to withhold funds from higher education institutions that seek to provide a base for cannabis-specific research,” the letter, which was signed by 15 other lawmakers joining Neguse and Armstrong, states. “This risk is particularly worrying for institutions in those states and in the District of Columbia that have taken steps to legalize both the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis, and the majority of U.S. states that presently authorize and regulate the issue of medical cannabis by statute.”

“Currently, there are a multitude of higher education institutions conducting a range of cannabis related research, including many in our districts, who prefer for future developments to occur through an accredited educational setting,” it continues. “Formal research is especially important as more states legalize medical marijuana. We need medical professionals who are equipped with the knowledge and certification to discuss competently issues surrounding cannabis and health.”

“Evidence-based research regarding cannabis ought to be encouraged in academic settings, not discouraged. Although many schools and universities have expressed an interest in conducting scientific and observational research on the cannabis plant, they remain hesitant to do so because of a fear of potentially losing eligibility to receive federal grants from the Department of Education… Our constitutional framework has afforded the whole nation the chance to allow states to differ on many matters of public policy, including cannabis. As a result, that same framework should be extended to the protection of research of cannabis at higher education institutions.”

The lawmakers want leaders in the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee to insert language into an upcoming spending bill that specifically protects colleges that allow marijuana to be researched at their institutions.

The proposed rider reads:

“None of the funds provided by this Act or provided by previous Appropriations Acts to the Department of Education shall be withheld from an institute of higher education solely because that institute is conducting or is preparing to conduct research on marihuana as defined in 21 U.S.C. § 802 (16).”

The subcommittee included a similar rider in an appropriations bill that was introduced last year and passed by the House, so it’s not unlikely that it will do so again. That said, the Senate under Republican control did not follow suit last time and the language did not make it into final appropriations legislation that was signed into law. It remains to be seen if the new Democratic Senate will advance the cannabis provision this time.

Beside Neguse and Armstrong, signatories on the new letter are: Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Ken Buck (R-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Peter Welch (D-VT), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Lou Correa (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Jared Huffman (D-CA).

Neguse, Armstrong and and 25 colleagues wrote a similar letter to House leadership in 2019, stating that “there are a multitude of higher education institutions conducting a range of cannabis-related research, including many in our districts, who prefer for future developments to occur through an accredited educational setting.”

This is the second cannabis-related letter to be sent by congressional lawmakers to appropriators this session—and there’s increased optimism among advocates that the requests will be honored given that Democrats now control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

Last month, a bipartisan group of legislators joined a sign-on letter urging leaders of a key committee to include provisions protecting all state, territory and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference in upcoming annual spending legislation when it is introduced.

That sign-on letter—led by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), along with Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)—notes the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes and argues that the Department of Justice should be barred from enforcing prohibition against citizens who comply with those local policies.

Read the letter on university protections for marijuana research below: 

Cannabis Research Letter by Marijuana Moment

Colorado Governor Signs Bill To Expand Medical Marijuana Access For Students In Schools

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