Texas lawmakers approved a bill on Monday that would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients if they have a condition causing chronic pain that would otherwise be treated with prescription opioids.
The legislation from Rep. Stephanie Klick (R)—which would also replace the THC cap that was established under the state’s existing limited medical cannabis law—cleared the House Public Health Committee about a week after members took testimony on the proposal in an initial hearing.
This development comes weeks after a separate House committee unanimously approved a bill to decriminalize cannabis possession in the state while provide a pathway for records expungement.
— Texas NORML (@TexasNORML) March 20, 2023
The medical marijuana expansion legislation, meanwhile, would replace the one percent THC cap for cannabis oil from with a volumetric dose of 10 milligrams. As introduced, the bill would have increased the limit to five percent THC content, but the committee adopted a substitute amendment that contains the switch to the volumetric dose method.
It would also add a tenth condition that qualifies patients for low-THC marijuana products: “A condition that causes chronic pain, for which a physician would otherwise prescribe an opioid.”
Importantly, the bill further stipulates that regulators at the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) could approve, through rulemaking, additional debilitating medical conditions to qualify patients for the cannabis program. If enacted, the bill would take effect starting on September 1, 2023.
Under current law, patients can qualify for low-THC medical cannabis if they have epilepsy, a seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism, cancer, an incurable neurodegenerative disease or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Texas NORML Executive Director Jax James told Marijuana Moment that advocates “feel confident” that the expansion bill will be approved on the House floor after clearing committee.
“However, we encourage our fellow Texans to reach out to their representatives in support of this legislation, as well as their senators in expectation of it crossing over,” she said. “The legislature moves quickly and we must ensure these important changes are codified for Texas patients.”
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While advocates would like to see the conservative legislature enact more holistic medical cannabis legislation, or end prohibition altogether, the committee-passed measure does represent a significant expansion, while also recognizing the potential of cannabis as an opioid alternative.
The text of the substitute amendment adopted ahead of Monday’s panel vote is not yet available, so it’s not immediately clear if there were other substantive changes made to the bill. The revised measure now heads to the Calendars Committee to be scheduled for floor action.
The full Texas House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session. Lawmakers have since been unable to pass additional expansive cannabis bills in recent sessions.
For his part, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said that he doesn’t believe people should be incarcerated over low-level marijuana possession. However, the governor incorrectly suggested last year that lawmakers have already adopted the policy statewide.
House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said in September that he will work to enact criminal justice reform in the 2023 session, and he again expressed support for lowering penalties for marijuana possession.
The Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank endorsing decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2018, but that was later rescinded.
A poll released earlier this month found that a majority of Texas voters say that the state’s marijuana laws should be “less strict.”
Also this month, Texas lawmakers filed three bills aimed at expanding research on the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. Those measures, if enacted, would build on a modest psychedelics study law enacted last session.
Meanwhile, there’s also been a surge of local action on marijuana issues under home rule laws in Texas over recent years.
Major cities like Austin have already enacted decriminalization locally at the ballot, and voters passed the reform in five other Texas cities this past November.
San Antonio voters will see a measure on their May ballot to decriminalize marijuana, prevent the enforcement of abortion restriction laws and ban no-knock warrants.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.