These actions come at the beginning of a busy week for drug policy reform in the legislature. Additional proposals to decriminalize cannabis possession and expand the state’s medical marijuana program are set to be considered on the House floor over the coming days.
The cannabis concentrates measure would make it so possession of up to two ounces of those products would be downgraded to a class B misdemeanor. The bill cleared the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee earlier this month, and now it’s been approved on second reading in the full chamber, with a final vote to send it to the Senate expected as early as Wednesday.
“With about 30 days left in the legislative session, we are so pleased to see the Texas House advancing meaningful changes to our state’s marijuana laws,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Now the focus shifts to the Senate, which has historically been a steep uphill battle.”
Meanwhile, the psychedelics research legislation from Rep. Alex Dominguez (D) passed in the House Public Health Committee on Monday. The panel approved amendment that includes changes limiting 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.
The legislation 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.
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.
But while both of these bills represent significant developments in drug policy in Texas, they’re just the first pieces of legislation on the issue that will be taken up by lawmakers this week.
On Wednesday, the House will consider a bill that would add cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (for veterans only) 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.
“We are poised for a busy week,” Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “We are hopeful that friendly amendments can continue to improve this important legislation. We will be handing out one pagers with our recommendations to all offices at the Capitol.”
Finkel said advocates are also preparing for House consideration of a measure to make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a class C misdemeanor that carries a fine but no threat of jail time. The chamber is scheduled to take up that decriminalization bill on Thursday.
The full House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.
“I hope that today’s movement is setting the stage for what it to come the rest of the week,” Finkel said.
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.