In a unanimous vote on Wednesday, the Texas Senate voted to significantly expand access to “low-THC” cannabis medicine in the Lone Star State.
Republican Senator Donna Campbell sponsored House Bill 3703 after it sailed through the House with only 10 “nay” votes. Representative Stephanie Klick, a Republican representing Fort Worth, introduced the bill.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott has until June 16 to sign the bill into law—and there’s no guarantee he will. But if the cannabis-averse governor does OK the law, it could be a watershed moment for cannabis in Texas. The state hasn’t seen medical-cannabis reform since the original Compassionate Use Act passed, in 2015.
Under current state law, only patients with intractable epilepsy can use medical cannabis, and only products with up to 0.5 percent THC. The new bill would remove the “intractable” requirement and add several new conditions, including autism, multiple sclerosis, “terminal cancer[s]” and “incurable neurodegenerative disease[s].” These changes will undoubtedly increase enrollment in the Compassionate Use Program, which right now has only 748 patients.
The bill would also prevent schools from punishing students for possessing or using low-THC medication and allows the state’s three licensed producers to operate multiple dispensaries (not just one, as is currently the case) if state regulators determine that “more than one dispensing location is necessary.” It sets up a “low-THC cannabis research program” to study the plant’s therapeutic potential, but with a catch: The state “is not required to establish the program” if relevant federal licenses and registrations “cannot be obtained,” which will likely be the case.
Another cannabis bill, House Bill 1365, would have expanded the state’s Compassionate Use Program even further. Sponsored by Representative Eduardo “Eddie” Lucio III, a Brownsville Democrat, it extended low-THC cannabis to people with a “debilitating medical condition,” allowed up to four dispensaries per producer, and permitted patients to vape medicines. (An earlier version removed the “low-THC” requirements” altogether.) But to the dismay of some cannabis activists and Democrats, this more progressive bill died in Senate committee, overtaken by Klick and Campbell’s bill.
Even though the Senate passed the bill unanimously, debate on the floor got heated. First, Republican Senator Brian Birdwell accused unnamed cannabis activists of leveraging veterans to push for cannabis reforms such as the inclusion of post-traumatic stress disorder, which was not included in the final bill.
He vowed he would “not let my scars or those of other veterans” sway him into including coverage for PTSD. He spoke of “veterans who have committed suicide from THC” and a “multi-year marijuana user” who he said murdered a “famous constituent.”
Still, he clarified: “You have crafted the bill correctly. I will support it. But I will not allow it become the road to perdition for Texas that has manifested itself in Colorado and other states.” He thanked Senator Coleman and Representative Klick for the bill.
“Thank you, Senator Birdwell. I appreciate your comments,” said Senator Campbell. “I agree.”
Then, in a sharp rebuke, Democratic Senator Jose Menendez said that the law was “barely expanding” medical cannabis access.
The state legislature only meets for around 140 days at a time, and only on odd-numbered years, so this is likely it until 2021, as far as cannabis law reform in Texas is concerned.
“It’s nowhere near where I think it should be,” Menendez said of the law. But he wouldn’t add amendments, he said, “out of respect for the process and the author.”