Updated on April 30, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The Texas Tribune reported some exciting news for patients in Texas. This week, the Texas House of Representatives has been working hard on new cannabis legislation. In November of 2020, nine (9) bills were pre-filed to reintroduce the subject of medical marijuana reform. And that’s great news, because medical marijuana in Texas is very prohibitive.
Texas has a medical marijuana program. But it has been harshly criticized as restrictive and not meeting the needs of patients. Currently, there is a minimal number of health conditions that qualify patients for medical marijuana. There are no retail, medical cannabis dispensaries in Texas. And patients are limited to tinctures or capsule products only, with a maximum potency of .50% THC.
The HB 43 Bill sponsored by Rep. Alex Dominguez (D) in November would allow the low-THC cap on medical cannabis to be removed. It would also enable physicians in Texas to prescribe medical marijuana for any condition that would benefit a patient.
The SB 90 bill sponsored by Senator Jose Menendez (D) also moved to remove the 0.50% THC limit on medical products. And proposed the addition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the qualifying health conditions. In 2019, Texas legislators declined to add PTSD to the list of qualifying diagnoses. Despite strong support from veterans and other groups. Menendez also sponsored SB 91, making medical cannabis eligible for health insurance coverage for veterans.
Decriminalizing Personal Use Cannabis in Texas
Does it seem fair that people are still facing thousands of dollars in legal costs and fines for small amounts of cannabis? It is challenging to be a Texas resident and see how the decriminalization of cannabis is progressing in other states. While in Texas, progress has been agonizingly slow.
Charges for possession of weed depend on the amount in most states. In some jurisdictions (even with restrictive cannabis laws), there are no criminal charges. There may be a ticket or citation issued and a small fine. Similar to a parking ticket. And, of course, your cannabis is confiscated by law enforcement.
Marijuana Moment reported that the results of a July 2020 poll show substantial support for the legalization of cannabis in Texas. The University of Texas / Texas Tribune poll shared that more than 53% of Texans favored legalizing adult-use (recreational) cannabis. Another 31% of Texans wanted to see the expansion of the medical marijuana program, but not the legalization of recreational weed.
But one of the most surprising results of the U of T poll was that only 21% of Texans surveyed wanted to reduce penalties for simple possession charges. Texas is known for maintaining severe penalties for all drug infractions. Conservative lawmakers have refused to differentiate cannabis as a lower threat to public safety than other Schedule 1 drugs. Cannabis is legally classified with life-threatening drugs with high overdose potential, including LSD, PCP, cocaine, and heroin.
Cities Moving Ahead on Policy Reform to Reduce Cannabis Arrests
To make matters more confusing, cities are adopting their cannabis policies. While state laws and legislation trump any ordinances that communities create, some towns have expressed that they will not charge people for having small amounts. For example, in Austin, Texas, the possession of marijuana (POM) is unlikely to result in a legal charge.
In 2020, the Austin City Council and Austin Police Department agreed to stop issuing charges for misdemeanor amounts of weed. Approximately 0 to 4 ounces. The state capital does not endorse the use of cannabis. But, if you are found consuming it, police in Austin may confiscate it. Or issue a ticket. But the city council has prohibited law enforcement from using resources to charge, investigate or prosecute cannabis charges where it is clear that the quantity was for personal use.
In Dallas, a similar policy took effect on Monday, April 19th. Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia sent the memo to the Mayor and City Council Members. Police will use a ‘cite and release’ method for people found with less than four ounces of cannabis. After a new oversight study, this move determined that the average cannabis arrest in Dallas was 7 grams. That is equivalent to seven packages of sweetener.
, people found with large amounts of cannabis will still face criminal charges on suspicion of cultivation or trafficking weed. Possession of a gun with cannabis also carries heavy penalties. So do manufacturing and distribution.
The Expansion of the Medical Marijuana in Texas
The new bills (if passed in the Senate) would be the largest expansion of the medical marijuana program in Texas to date. It would add several new qualifying health conditions, allowing more patients access to cannabis as a doctor-supervised treatment.
House Bill 1535 was sponsored by Representative Stephanie Klick (R – Fort Worth). It proposes that any patient with cancer (at all stages of severity) would qualify. Another important change would be qualifying patients based on acute or chronic pain. The bill passed with a 134-12 vote and now heads to the Texas Senate. That includes victims of assault.
Will medical marijuana retail dispensaries be coming to Texas soon? The suggested new cap on THC potency is 5%. But the proposed legislation provides an important caveat. It would allow physicians to recommend therapeutic cannabis for any medical condition. And it would also empower doctors to determine the right potency for the patient. That could include cannabis with a higher THC content than 5%. And to recommend strains with high levels of cannabidiol (CBD) for inflammation and other symptoms.