Texas Lawmakers OK Medical Marijuana, Industrial Hemp
But goal of decriminalizing low-level possession unattained
As was the case on many policy fronts this session, the 86th Texas Legislature failed to bring the state into the 21st century on cannabis regulation, but did make its largest strides in years toward the American mainstream. In a breakthrough that's literally taken decades to achieve, HB 1325 legalizes the cultivation of industrial hemp, bringing Texas in line with 40 other states and federal law that already allow for production of crops and products (such as CBD oils) that contain less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. The freedom-to-farm bill by veteran Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, enjoyed backing from both prominent cannabis advocates (Willie Nelson) and conservatives, such as Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who remain firmly opposed to legal recreational marijuana; if HB 1325 is signed into law by Gov. Abbott, Miller's agency will make new rules governing hemp production in Texas.
In another example of conservative mellowing toward long-sought reforms, the use of cannabis in health care will (upon Abbott's signature) be legalized for a new range of conditions, as HB 3703 by Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-North Richland Hills, builds on Texas' highly restrictive 2015 Compassionate Use Act and creates a bona fide medical marijuana program for patients with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, ALS, terminal cancer, autism, or other seizure disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. The measure still stops short of legalizing cannabis treatment for brain injuries and mental health conditions such as PTSD, as Klick (an R.N.) and Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels (an M.D.) steered the bill along a narrow path between pro-liberalization Democrats and conservative GOP lawmakers fearing outbreaks of reefer madness.
To that end, the third major goal sought by reformers this session – actual decriminalization of low-level possession – went unattained, even though the Republican Party of Texas' platform supports it. The primary vehicle for penalty reduction, HB 63 by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, prevailed in the House amid lively debate after it was dialed back to minimize, but not eliminate, criminal charges for possession of small amounts of weed. Even so, Dan Patrick stood firm in his commitment to not let any such hippie nonsense stain the floor of his Senate, and Texans will wait for reform for at least another biennium.