Last week was eventful for cannabis reform in Texas, when the House of Representatives approved three legislative proposals to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, lower fines on concentrates, and decriminalize possession.
The state’s current medical cannabis program is limited to patients with the following conditions: hard-to-treat epilepsy, terminal cancer, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism, or an incurable neurodegenerative disease; However, on April 28, in a vote between 134 and 12, Parliament approved House Bill 1535, which would expand qualification requirements in the program to include cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain, The Texas Tribune reported.
The bill would also allow the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to add additional qualification requirements through administrative regulation, The Texas Tribune reported.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) recognizes the current program in Texas as a “medical cannabidiol (CBD) program” rather than an appropriate medical cannabis program, as the program focuses on the use of CBD over tetrahydrocannabinol ( THC) for medicinal purposes lies according to the Texas Tribune.
However, HB 1535 would also raise the THC limit for medical cannabis from 0.5% to 5% and allow program participants to access higher doses than currently available.
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said the increase in the THC limit for medicinal cannabis was “a step in the right direction” but still prevents doctors from prescribing the correct doses for patients.
“There’s an incredibly restrictive limit on THC,” said Fazio. “Low THC levels work for some people but not for others. So we believe that it is doctors who make these decisions, not the legislators.”
Fazio also said HB 1535 would help bring more patients to the medical cannabis program, as there are currently around 3,500 registered patients out of over two million people eligible. However, she stated that the bill still “leaves patients in need of urgent access to this drug”.
In addition to the state’s medical cannabis program, lawmakers passed two bills aimed at lowering penalties for adult cannabis.
HB 2593 was cleared by the Chamber on April 28th with 108 votes to 33. The bill would slightly lower the penalties for possessing cannabis concentrate and reduce the penalty for controlling up to 2 ounces of concentrates for a Class B offense, The Texas Tribune reported.
And in an attempt to lower criminal penalties for possession of cannabis across Texas, the House passed HB 881 in an 88-40 vote on April 30, The Texas Tribune reported.
HB 441 would reduce possession of 1 ounce of cannabis or less in Texas from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C misdemeanor that requires no jail sentence and is punishable by a fine of up to $ 500, the article says . The bill would prevent those in possession of 1 ounce or less from losing their licenses or being arrested.
According to the article, a Class C offense would allow records to be erased and exclude a person from acquiring a criminal record.
Fazio said the bill would help keep young people from suffering criminal penalties, as the penalties themselves have caused more harm than cannabis use ever could.
In 2019 the House passed a similar law to reduce penalties for adult cannabis, but it was pronounced dead in the Senate. However, Texans’ interest in legalizing adult cannabis has increased over the years, with 60% of respondents in favor of legalization – up from 49% in 2014 – according to the February 2021 polls by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune .
“There’s been a big change now and it’s so wonderful to see,” said Fazio. “It is very rewarding to see the change in the way this issue is perceived, the seriousness shown to lawmakers, and now increase support. It is such an exciting time to be a lawyer.”