[Ed Note: Go Texas! It’s hopeful that Texas might see both expanded medical cannabis and decriminalization for smaller amounts of marijuana. The pair of bills have bipartisan support.]
Among the first bills filed for the 2019 legislative session in Texas are two major attempts at marijuana policy reform in regards to medical access and decriminalization. The Senate’s medical effort led by SB 90 sponsor Senator José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) would widely expand Texas’s highly restrictive medical marijuana medical marijuana program to numerous debilitating conditions and clean up other issues. In the House, State Representative Joe Moody (D-El Paso) filed AB 63 to decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.
“Doctors, not politicians, should determine what is best for Texas patients,” Menéndez said following SB 90’s filing, “Studies have proven that cannabis is a legitimate medicine that can help a variety of Texans including individuals suffering from opioid addiction, veterans coping with PTSD, cancer patients, and people on the Autism spectrum. Texas should provide real relief for our suffering patients.”
Moody shared his excitement with Cannabis Now in a statement via email. “Civil penalty legislation is the first thing I’ve filed on the first day of filing for the 86th Session,” Moody wrote. “There’s been an incredible swell of bipartisan support since last session and the official Texas Republican and Democratic platforms both approve of this kind of reform now. I’m optimistic that this will be the session we finally see smarter, fairer marijuana laws in Texas.”
With the Texas legislature convening once every two years and marijuana becoming a more bipartisan issue on a seemingly monthly basis, advocates feel these two bills are well positioned to capitalize on the previous enthusiasm around both issues. Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy Director Heather Fazio spoke exclusively with Cannabis Now on her hope for both bills this time around and what goals the group is looking to accomplish. “We have tremendous momentum in Texas for bringing about meaningful reform in the 2019 legislative session,” Fazio told Cannabis Now. Fazio pointed to the work advocates did over the past two years that has seen major political players in Texas take a stand on the issue.
“The Republican Party of Texas has officially endorsed basically what is the civil penalties bill,” said Fazio. “They even asked for less of a fine than what’s in the bill.” Governor Greg Abbot’s recent statement around his wiliness to consider decriminalization also proved a nice way to set the tone going into the legislative session. “We have the governor making a public statement on live television in September saying he’s open to working with lawmakers on reducing penalties for possession, that he doesn’t want to see our jails stockpiled with people who are there for small amounts of marijuana,” said Fazio. But the governor has recently been less receptive about expanding the state’s medical program.
The scale of what decrim could mean in Texas is massive. Fazio notes the state arrested over 64,000 people for the simple possession of marijuana in 2017. Of those, about 40,000 were convicted.
“[Convictions] means they now have a lifelong criminal record that will affect their ability to go to college, their ability to be employed, opportunities for housing,” Fazio said. “Their driver’s license is automatically suspended. The civil penalties bill by Chairman Moody will go far in helping to eliminate the arrests, jail time, and even the criminal record associated with small amounts of marijuana.”
In light of how tough it is for patients at the moment in Texas, Fazio is hoping the medical bill SB 90 will not only expand access to a wider list of conditions that includes cancer, ALS, and PTSD but also fix a few other issues within the law.
“Texas’s law is unreasonably restrictive in that it only allows those with Intractable Epilepsy to access low THC cannabis,” said Fazio. Another one of the big flaws currently is the requirement for doctors to prescribe cannabis.
“By having the language in the law that requires them to prescribe, we are not protecting doctors from federal interference,” said Fazio. “There are now 32 states that allow or have passed legislation for medical marijuana and every single one of them requires doctors to recommend cannabis.” The language is an important legal specification because you can’t prescribe a Schedule I drug. As the doctors should feel safe, so should the patients and creating independent lab testing in the state is an important step SB 90 looks to take. Under the current system companies test their own products, “or the Department of Public Safety to test the product in an enforcement mechanism.” said Fazio. As SB 90 does, advocates would like to see the state acquire an independent lab testing scene to allow patients to choose for themselves based on fair results.