Category Archives: News

Texas: Marijuana Advocacy Workshops | January 2020

The movement for marijuana law reform is picking up pace thanks to individual advocates sharing personal or professional experiences at the Capitol and in their communities. Let’s keep up the momentum!

We’re kicking off the new year with a series of 10 regional advocacy workshops throughout the state. We’re coming to a city near you!

Click cities below for event details and free registration:

San Antonio: Saturday, January 10 | Victoria: Saturday, January 11 
Bryan: Monday, January 13 | Lufkin: Thursday, January 16 Tyler: Friday, January 17 |  Fort Worth: Saturday, January 18
Lubbock: Monday, January 20 | MidlandTuesday, January 21
Austin: Date TBD | Houston: Date TBD
(All events listed here on our event calendar.)

With collaboration from our coalition partners and a special thanks to the Foundation for an Informed Texas, each workshop will cover the following topics:

All too often, those with personal or professional experience are overwhelmed by the political process. Our goal is to provide the tools necessary for advocates to understand the political landscape and feel confident in their ability to make effective arguments and share experiences that can be very personal.

All materials will be provided and admission is free, but registration is strongly encouraged as seating is limited. Business casual attire encouraged. (Click the city names above for event details and registration.)

Email hfazio@txmjpolicy.org with questions or more information.

Texas: 100+ Conditions Added to Low-THC Medical Cannabis Program | TxMJPolicy

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has approved a broad definition of “incurable neurodegenerative disease,” a condition that now qualifies a patient to participate in the Texas Compassionate Use Program (T.CUP).

As of December 5, 2019, patients with the following diagnosis (and more than 100 others) may participate in our state’s low-THC medical cannabis program:

Alzheimer’s Disease and several forms of dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, several forms of muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s Disease, motor neuron diseases like ALS, multiple mitochondrial conditions, creatine disorders, and neurotransmitter defect.

Find a full list of the newly added conditions here.

Additionally, the rule allows “a treating physician of a patient suffering from an incurable neurodegenerative disease not listed… may submit a request to the department to have a disease added.”

More information about this new definition, the process by which it was approved, and resources for patients who’d like to participate can be found here.

Background

In 2015, lawmakers established the Texas Compassionate Use Program, providing a legal and regulatory infrastructure for our state’s first legal cannabis market. At the time, only those with intractable epilepsy were granted legal access and, after four years of implementation, less than 1,000 patients had been able to participate in the program.

During the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers did little to improve the Compassionate Use Program. Even with the changes that were made, the program still allows only limited access to cannabis low in THC (.5%). With the legalization of hemp and hemp derived products (defined as cannabis with .3% THC), it’s difficult to see how the program is relevant at all.

Plus, there’s no mechanism for independent, third-party testing of the cannabis products patients are receiving. This was a big oversight that has still not been remedied.

We want to see the Compassionate Use Program expanded and improved during the 2021 legislative session. Doctors should be the decision-makers when it comes to who they prescribe cannabis for and the cannabinoid dosing (including THC) that will best treat their patient’s needs. It’s also critical that we allow third-party testing for consumer protection.

To join our efforts, click here to sign up for email alerts and click here to send a quick email to your legislators in support of a more inclusive medical cannabis program!

You can support our efforts by making a contribution here.

Texas Legislative Committees Tasked with Monitoring Cannabis Programs

The Texas House and Senate Committees have received their interim charges, several of which relate to cannabis.

Between legislative sessions, leaders of the House (Speaker) and Senate (Lt. Gov.) task each committee with a set of “interim charges” relating to important matters of public policy. Committees will host hearings, solicit input, and gather information relating to each interim charge. Each committee will put together an interim report for the 87th Legislature, ensuring that members are well informed and can make effective policy changes during the 2021 session.

Texas House

Public Health Committee
Related to General Monitoring – HB 3703, which expands eligibility for low-THC cannabis prescriptions. Monitor HHSC’s rule-making process. 

Agriculture and Livestock Committee
Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 86th Legislature. Conduct active oversight of all associated rule-making and other governmental actions taken to ensure intended legislative outcome of all legislation, including HB 1325, which relates to the production of hemp.

Monitor the Texas Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) rules regulating the farming and cultivation of industrial hemp production and sale, including proper permitting, standardized sampling and testing procedures, and tracking appropriate data to promote the hemp program in Texas. Examine the process by which state agencies collaborate, plan, and implement the State Hemp Production Plan with emphasis on farming, cultivation, possession, retail sales, and consumables. 

Criminal Jurisprudence Committee
Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 86th Legislature. Conduct active oversight of all associated rule-making and other governmental actions taken to ensure intended legislative outcome of all legislation, including HB 1325, which relates to the production and transportation of hemp. Examine current procedures and resources used to determine the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol in a substance and prosecutorial impediments to ensuring existing state law can be enforced. 

Texas Senate

Criminal Justice Committee
Keeping Vaping Devices/E-Cigarettes Out of the Hands of Children: Consider the emerging public safety concerns from the rise in “vaping” and e-cigarette use by minors. Study whether current criminal penalties are sufficient to deter individuals from selling these devices and substances used to fill these devices to minors.

Health and Human Services Committee
Public Health: Examine the emerging public health concerns from the rise in e-cigarette use and “vaping,” especially among minors. Determine if additional policies or laws are needed to protect the public’s health.
Monitoring: Senate Bill 21, including strategies to address tobacco and nicotine use, including e-cigarettes and vaping, by adolescents.

Find more information about each committee here.

Also be sure to sign up for email updates/action alerts and join as a sustaining member to show your support for more responsible marijuana policies in Texas!

Texas Senate Committee Considers Need for New Vaping Policies | Interim Hearing

Between legislative sessions, leaders of the House (Speaker) and Senate (Lt. Gov.) task each committee with a set of “interim charges” relating to important matters of public policy. Committees will host hearings, solicit input, and gather information relating to each interim charge, then provide a full public report in advance of the next legislative session.

The Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services has been tasked with researching the following Public Health related issues:

  • Examine the emerging public health concerns from the rise in e-cigarette use and “vaping,” especially among minors. Determine if additional policies or laws are needed to protect the public’s health. 
  • Monitor the implementation of Senate Bill 21, including strategies to address tobacco and nicotine use, including e-cigarettes and vaping, by adolescents.

Led by Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst (R- Brenham), the committee will host a hearing in Austin tomorrow.

From the Notice of Public Hearing: “Public testimony will be limited to 2 minutes. If submitting written testimony, please provide 15 copies to the committee clerk with your name on each.”

Written testimony can be just as effective as being there to testify in person. If you’d like to submit written testimony, it can be sent to: luisa.venegoni_sc@senate.texas.gov.

Commentary

The current vaping crisis is not about vaping at all. It’s about illegal THC products and the demand created by prohibition. In the interest of Public Health and Safety, Texas should repeal marijuana prohibition and, instead, bring the market into the light of day where products are reasonably regulated and consumers have a reasonable expectation that products are safe.

Of course, we’ll also need consumer protection groups to issue warnings about bad actors and hold the newly legal industry to a high standard.

Click here for info about the cannabis-related interim charges.

Texas: Marijuana bills can be filed one year from today!

Our Texas Legislature will meet from January through May of 2021, but the pre-filing period begins exactly one year from today! This is the period of time before the formal legislative session when our newly elected lawmakers can file legislation, including bills to reform our state’s terrible marijuana policies.

The Texas Senate was hamstrung by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and our elected senators never got to vote on a decriminalization bill. Over the next year, and in spite of many local law enforcement officers issuing citations rather than making arrests, more than 60,000 people will be prosecuted for simple marijuana possession in our state. It’ll be an unnecessary strain on our criminal justice system and two-thirds of those prosecuted will end up with a criminal record, hindering their access to higher education, employment opportunities, child custody, and even housing. It’s past time for a change!

Here’s what you can do today:

   1) Contact your senator in support of reform.
   2) Contribute toward our efforts during the interim.

We’re working closely with Texas NORML to produce a Texas Marijuana Policy Voter Guide to help reformers like you know exactly where the candidates stand on this important issue. We’re also preparing for another series of FREE regional advocacy workshops throughout the state. Details will be forthcoming, but you can follow this Facebook event page now for updates.

Special Note: Today is Veterans Day and many Texas veterans continue their service through advocacy!

Led by Army Major David Bass (ret.)Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana continues to grow in size and influence. Over the weekend, dozens of veterans from across the state marched in parades, bringing awareness to their need for legal access to cannabis.

Thank you for your leadership, Major Bass!

Election Day: Three Special Elections for Texas House!

ELECTION DAY — In addition to the statewide constitutional amendments, there are three Texas House seats up for election!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Polls are open from 7:00am-7:00pm

Three state representatives retired after this year’s legislative session, triggering special elections to fill the vacancies:

Rep. Jessica Farrar (Texas House District 148 – Houston)
Rep. John Zerwas (Texas House District 28 – Houston)
Rep. Eric Johnson (Texas House District 100 – Dallas)

Do you live in one of these Texas House Districts? Find out here.

Find out where the candidates stand on marijuana law reform:
Texas House District 148 – Houston
Texas House District 28 – Houston
Texas House District 100 – Dallas

Election Information

When to Vote: TODAY, Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Where to Vote: https://www.votetexas.gov/voting/where.html
Confirm your Voter Registration: https://teamrv-mvp.sos.texas.gov/MVP/mvp.do

Thank you for making marijuana law reform a priority when you cast your vote!

P.S. We are working with our allies on a comprehensive Texas Marijuana Policy Voter Guide for the Primary and General Elections next year. In a world of never-ending politics and elections, we’ll do all we can to make it easy for your to stay informed and engaged.

What’s happening with hemp? (And some upcoming events!)

Earlier this year, both the federal and state governments legalized low-THC (.3%) cannabis (aka hemp) for industrial purposes and consumable products. The Texas Hemp Program is mostly regulated by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), but consumable hemp products are regulated by the Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

On October 3, DSHS held a public hearing on Austin to accept comments about the regulation of consumable hemp products (including CBD) and the permitting of retailers who sell these products. Here’s a video of the hearing, courtesy of the Foundation for an Informed Texas, one of our valued coalition partners. And here is the presentation offered by DSHS.

No decisions were made at this meeting, but we can expect draft rules to be available in coming weeks. One thing we do know: a permit will be required for retailers who wish to sell hemp products.

DSHS Hemp Resource Page (VERY informative): https://www.dshs.texas.gov/consumerprotection/hemp-program/default.aspx

What’s the status of cultivation and processing under the Texas Hemp Program? 

Our state regulators are stuck in a holding pattern until the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirms their standards for approving state programs, a step that’s required federal law. Once the TDA has had their general plan approved by the USDA, we can begin the state-level rule-making process, including a public comment period after a draft of the rules is available. After rules are finalized, TDA can move forward with permitting in-state hemp cultivation and processing.

Issues with Marijuana Law Enforcement

With the legalization of hemp, Texas law enforcement has been put in a tough position: how much are they willing to spend to prosecute people for marijuana? Since testing to determine the exact level of THC in a cannabis product is very expensive, many local law enforcement officials are declining to arrest/prosecute people for small amounts of marijuana. Others are digging in.

I was recently featured on Fox News to discuss Texas cannabis policy, including the legalization of hemp, marijuana law enforcement, and our efforts to decriminalize state wide.

Upcoming Events

Austin: Tuesday, October 15 — Legalizing Marijuana: What are the Economic, Social, and Cultural Impacts? (Location: LBJ Library at UT Austin – Details here.)

Austin: Thursday, October 17 — Texas Hemp Walking Tours — I’ll be speaking during the happy hour at 7:30pm. (Location: The Venue – Details here.)

Fort Worth: Saturday, October 19 — Cannabiz L.A.B. (Legal, Ancillary, Branding)
(Location: Texas A&M School of Law – Details here.)

Brenham: Sunday, Oct. 20 – Tuesday, Oct. 22 — East Texas Hemp Conference (Location: The Barnhill Center – Details here.)

Statewide: Monday, October 21 — Early Voting Begins!
Local Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Special Elections. Find out where the Texas House candidates for HD 28, HD 100, and HD 148 stand on marijuana law reform.

San Antonio: Saturday, October 26 — Green Seed Conference and Expo (Location: Norris Conference Center – Details here.)

Thank you for your continued support. Have a great week!

Texas Compassionate Use Program Update – October 2019

The Texas Compassionate Use Program (T.CUP) was originally enacted in 2015, allowing access to low-THC cannabis for those with intractable epilepsy. Earlier this year, the program was expanded to include more patients. Unfortunately, it still falls very short of the medical freedom recognized in 33 other states that allow safe and legal access to cannabis with a doctor’s approval. (Program overview.)

T.CUP is generally regulated by the Department of Public Safety (DPS), but the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is responsible for defining “incurable neurodegenerative disease,” one of the recently added qualifying conditions.

At a recent hearing where they accepted public comment, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that DSHS is considering over 100 specific conditions or symptoms (44 TexReg 5541), including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s Disease. Unless amendments are necessary, the definition of “incurable neurodegenerative disease” is expected to be finalized by December 2, 2019. Once final, these patients would have access to T.CUP through a registered physician. (Physician registration info.)

According to DPS, fewer than 1,700 patients have actually been able to receive medicine through this program after four years of implementation. This number is significantly lower than the 150,000 potential patients touted by lawmakers when the unreasonably restrictive bill was first passed into law. With the newly added conditions, we estimate more than one million patients could qualify.

Currently, three businesses are licensed to cultivate, process, and dispense low-THC cannabis under T.CUP. On September 16, DPS unexpectedly announced that they would open a 30-day application period for new businesses to apply for licensure. A week into the licensing period, however, DPS abruptly suspended the process. Little explanation has been given, but DPS did tell the San Antonio Express-News“By all accounts we’re meeting today’s demand…We want to see what that’s going to look like in the next few months and decide whether we need to do anything.”

There is no announced plan to re-open the application process and DPS is not required to do so as long as the currently licensed businesses can “ensure reasonable statewide access,” as required by law. Read more info here, including my opinion of what’s really going on.

Please consider making a contribution to our efforts. Thank you for your support!

TxMJPolicy Advocates: Texas Compassionate Use Program should be accessible and transparent

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) is tasked with regulating the Texas Compassionate Use Program (T.CUP). DPS is governed by the Public Safety Commission, which allows public comment at their regular meetings.

Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, and Jax Finkel, director of Texas NORML, both offered comments about the lack of accessibility and transparency for those wanting to participate in T.CUP.

Heather’s comments covered licensing fees and the number of licenses issued. Read them here. Jax covered the recently suspended business application period and lack of transparency in the process. Read them here.

Click here to sign up for email updates and action alerts.

Background

On October 9th, we broke the news that, after opening up a 30-day application period for business to apply for licensure under the Texas Compassionate Use Program (T.CUP), the Department of Public Safety (DPS) had abruptly (and without explanation) suspended the process.

News Coverage: Austin-American Statesman | Texas Tribune | San Antonio Express-News | KXAN News

When pressed, DPS Deputy Director Skylor Hearn told the San Antonio Express News that the department needs to assess patient demand before revisiting whether more dispensaries should open in Texas. “By all accounts we’re meeting today’s demand,” he said. “We want to see what that’s going to look like in the next few months and decide whether we need to do anything.”

My Opinion: They’re right. It’s unlikely that more licenses are necessary to ensure reasonable statewide access, which is their only statutory obligation. However, it is hard to believe that DPS did no market analysis before announcing and moving forward with this application process. I think they are taking the heat for a top-down decision that was influenced by lobbyists for at least one of the three currently licensed businesses who did not want to see their market share diminished. Economically, I can’t blame them. They’ve sunk millions into their businesses and may now finally begin to see a return on their investment.

Bottom Line: Even if we assume corporate influence didn’t play a role here, as a matter of government accountability, it is wholly unacceptable for DPS to neglect their responsibility of due diligence, especially when they have been tasked with regulating a program that directly impacts the health of seriously ill patients.

This cannot happen again and we’re going to continue to hold the state accountable! 

Thank you for your support and attention to this important issue. Please consider making a contribution to our efforts during the interim.

Developing News: DPS abruptly suspends the T.CUP application process!

In 2015, Texas established the extremely limited Texas Compassionate Use Program (T.CUP), which allowed access to low-THC cannabis for those with intractable epilepsy. After four years of implementation, three businesses had been licensed and only several hundred patients (in a state of 27 million) had been served. 

Earlier this year, our state legislature passed HB 3703, a bill providing minimal expansion of the program. In response to this expansion, on September 16, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced they would open a 30-day application period for businesses wishing to become licensed to cultivate, process, and dispense low-THC cannabis.

That application period began on October 1, but in a surprise turn of events, DPS has suddenly (and without explanation) suspended the T.CUP application process.

In an email this morning, a representative from DPS offered the following statement:

“The department is suspending the application process for licenses in the Compassionate Use Program, effective immediately. We will review the program and the need for any additional licenses again in the coming months.”

The issue has been covered by the Austin-American Statesman:

[Heather Fazio] called it highly irregular that the Department of Public Safety would suspend the process midway through its own application window.

“I’m surprised by this,” Fazio said. “It’s a very unusual thing to happen — for them to have not done their due diligence [before moving] forward with the application process” that they started.

Also covered by the Texas Tribune:

“I find it concerning that a week into the application process it’s suspended with no notice and no clear communication with doctors, patients or the general public,” [Jax Finkel, Texas NORML] said.
….

State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, who spearheaded the legislation last session to expand the Compassionate Use Act, said Wednesday afternoon that the removal of the licensing application from DPS’s website was likely a “temporary delay.”

“Hang tight for now,” Klick said. “This is likely just a temporary delay until we know which of the incurable neurodegenerative conditions are appropriate to be included on the list.”

If you have questions or concerns, please consider contacting DPS directly through their website. As more information is made available, updates will be posted to our website: www.TexasMarijuanaPolicy.org.

Important Note: There are still three licensed businesses that are fully operational and access for qualifying patients is unlikely to be interrupted.