Texas has some major changes surrounding cannabis on the horizon.
The state’s House of Representatives has given initial approval to a bill allowing doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients as an alternative to opioids for chronic pain treatment. The bill would specifically expand eligibility for low-THC cannabis products, granting legal access to patients with “a condition that causes chronic pain, for which a physician would otherwise prescribe an opioid.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, one in five Americans live with chronic pain. In 2021, more than 106,000 people in the U.S. died from a drug-involved overdose, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids, according to the National Institutes of Health. In Texas specifically, there was an 80% increase in reported synthetic opioid-related deaths in 2021 compared to 2020, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
Conversely, even the DEA admits that no deaths from cannabis overdose have ever occurred.
A New Chapter for the Texas Cannabis Industry?
The legislation, House Bill 1805, would also replace the THC cap established under Texas’s existing medical cannabis law. Texas’s medical cannabis law is currently CBD-only, with a cap of 1% THC for cannabis oil. Should the bill be enacted, the THC limit would shift to the volumetric dose of 10 mg. The bill further stipulates that Department of State Health Services (DSHS) regulators could approve additional debilitating medical conditions to qualify new patients for the cannabis program through rulemaking.
The bill from Rep. Stephanie Klick (R) cleared the chamber after a 121-23 vote on Tuesday, and it needs one more round of approval in the House before it can move to the Senate. If enacted, the bill would take effect on Sept. 1, 2023.
Texas NORML has also encouraged supporters in the state to reach out to lawmakers and voice their support of the reform, encouraging lawmakers to approve it. Jax James, executive director of Texas NORML, said in a news release that he is “thrilled” to see the advancement of the proposed legislation.
“Passage of this legislation will provide qualified patients with a state-sanctioned option to access a therapy that has proven to offer significant benefits,” Jones said. “Medical cannabis is an objectively safer alternative to the array of pharmaceutical drugs that it could potentially replace. I urge my fellow Texans to voice their support for this important legislation and to reach out to their Senators to encourage their backing as it moves through the legislative process.”
One of Many Recent Shifts
Of course, this move could be seen as a small step compared to other states that have enacted more wide-reaching medical cannabis legislation, or ended prohibition as a whole, though it still represents significant expansion for Texas. It’s also one of several recent moves that show Texas may be broadening its horizons when it comes to cannabis.
Texas lawmakers recently held a hearing on House Bill 218 that, if passed, would lower the penalties for possession of cannabis and cannabis concentrates. Last month, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee also voted 9-0 to pass a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis.
On Election Day 2022, five Texas cities also voted to decriminalize low-level cannabis possession: Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights. In the weeks since, some cities clashed with lawmakers, who argued that the decriminalization effort violates state law and hinders police officers.
Recently, a Texas Federal Court also ruled that the federal ban on cannabis users owning firearms is unconstitutional. The judge on the case, Kathleen Cardone, said, “It strains credulity to believe that taking part in such a widespread practice can render an individual so dangerous or untrustworthy that they must be stripped of their Second Amendment rights.”
Texas Residents Favor Updated Cannabis Policies
And while Texas still has very restrictive cannabis laws, they don’t align with views the state’s citizens hold.
According to a University of Houston study released earlier this year, out of 1,200 Texan adults 18 and older, four out of five adults said they would support an expanded medical cannabis program. The survey also found that the majority of respondents supported decriminalizing cannabis possession, lessening the penalty of possessing small amounts of cannabis to a citation, and two-thirds of surveyed individuals support legalizing cannabis for adult use.
Another poll, conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Politics Project in 2022, similarly found that a strong majority (72%) back decriminalizing cannabis by making the offense punishable by a citation and fine with no threat of jail time. Only 17% said they would support a complete prohibition on cannabis usage, including medicinal cannabis.