Tag Archives: Texas

Could Legal Marijuana Benefit the Texas Economy?

For far too long, Texans have suffered under marijuana prohibition, a policy that has caused more harm than good. Many millions have been arrested, lives have been derailed, families have been torn apart, and valuable law enforcement resources have been squandered. 

In addition to reducing the devastating social impact of these failed policies, especially in poor and minority communities, the prospect of a new taxable market is catching the eye of lawmakers. And for good reason.

Even with modest taxes imposed, the State of Texas could bring in as much as $1 billion. This funding can help fill the budgetary gap created by government shutdowns in response to COVID-19.

CBS Austin recently covered this story, including an interview with Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy:

Contact Governor Abbott and your state lawmakers to encourage their support for legalizing marijuana in Texas!

Texas farmers support bill to make hemp a potential cash crop

Originally Posted: 12:23 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, 2017 By Bob Sechler – American-Statesman Staff here

Hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana, has some fans among Texas farmers.

A number of them turned out Wednesday for a House committee hearing at the Capitol to support a bill defining so-called “industrial hemp” as legally distinct from marijuana. The bill, House Bill 3587,
would allow hemp to be grown and marketed in Texas under a federal pilot program in which 31 other states are participating.

“There are thousands of uses for this crop,” testified Jeff Williams, a representative of Clayton Williams Farms & Ranches in far West Texas and the son of the one-time GOP gubernatorial candidate. “And Texas has really the best climate almost anywhere in the United States and other countries” to cultivate it.

Farmers and some university researchers who spoke Wednesday during the hearing before the House Committee on Agriculture & Livestock cited an abundance of uses for hemp. The plant — which has an extremely low level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the component of marijuana that produces a high — is a source of fiber for clothing and industrial parts, they said, and its seeds and oils have been used in health and food supplements.

Under existing laws, hemp-derived products can be imported into Texas and sold in the state, but the plant can’t be grown here. State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, who co-authored HB 3587, said he did so partly because of the inconsistency.

“It ought to be something that we ought to be able to grow in Texas,” Zedler said. “This will provide an economic boon to the state.”

Still, some members of the committee noted the close relationship between hemp and marijuana and questioned how advocates for hemp can overcome negative impressions about it.

“How do we get away from the perception that this is going to be abused in the way that marijuana is abused?” asked state Rep. Lynn Stuckey, R-Denton.

Laurance Armour, a south Texas rice farmer, said education is the key. He said allowing farmers to start cultivating hemp will help because the public will become more familiar with the crop and its benefits.

If legal, hemp would be an ideal crop in South Texas because of its low water requirements and tolerance for sandy soils, Armour said.

“Rice is going to go away” because of high water costs and other factors, he said. “Hemp could be the answer. Unfortunately, when everybody hears ‘hemp,’ they think it’s marijuana. It’s not the same crop.”

No action was taken on the bill after the hearing, and it remains pending in the committee.

In addition to Zedler’s industrial hemp bill, more than a dozen bills have been filed in the current session of the state Legislature dealing with various aspects of conventional marijuana, meaning marijuana with psychoactive levels of THC.

House Bill 81, which would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, has gained some traction, winning approval from the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this month, although it has yet to be taken up by the full House for a vote.

Under the bill — co-authored by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso — law enforcement officers would write tickets in such cases instead of making arrests, and culprits would pay fines of up to $250, do community service or attend substance-abuse classes, but they wouldn’t suffer the permanent stigma of having a criminal record and they wouldn’t crowd local courts and jails. The bill defines a small amount of marijuana as an ounce or less.

Some other bills would legalize medical marijuana for any doctor-corroborated debilitating health condition, such as cancer, chronic pain, autism or post-traumatic stress disorder, although the bills have yet to be scheduled for committee hearings.

Small steps forward for medical marijuana in big ol’ Texas

Originally posted by Lauren L’Amie, April 4, 2017, here


The possibilities seem endless in a place as big as Texas—a state where you can you can buy guns and groceries in the same trip, or easily and legally purchase exotic animals.

Still, in all but one county, possession of two ounces or less of marijuana can result in a misdemeanor charge, up to 180 days in prison, or a fine of up to $2,000. Four or more ounces is a federal offense punishable by up to two years in prison. Could that soon change?

Police arrest an estimated 70,000 Texans annually for marijuana possession, usually in small amounts. But according to recent polls, 68 percent of Texans support reducing penalties for low-level marijuana possession.

Safe to say, it’s taken the legislators in the Lone Star State a little too long to catch up to public opinion. With the passage of new medical marijuana policy, however, the Texas legislature isn’t as far away from legalizing weed as it would seem.

In September 2017, the Texas Compassionate Use Act, Texas’s first small medical marijuana victory, is set to become viable law thanks to the exhaustive efforts of lobbying groups across the state.

The Compassionate Use Act allows patients with epilepsy access to low-THC marijuana and CBD oil, both of which have been proven to prevent seizures and replace other epilepsy drugs that come with nasty side effects. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the bill into law in June 2015, said it would provide “healing and hope for children,” although he reiterated that its signing does not open the door for recreational marijuana use in Texas.

Heather Fazio, the Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that despite Abbott’s show of support, the regulatory nature of this legislation does virtually nothing to help the very few patients that it claims to benefit.

“While the passage of this legislation was monumental in that the Texas legislature acknowledged cannabis as medicine, the existing program is unreasonably restrictive,” Fazio says.

According to the legislation, the state will only grant permission to patients who have “intractable epilepsy,” meaning they must have already exhausted two other prescription drug options with no success. Not only that, patients must also receive official prescriptions for cannabis from two state-licensed physicians before they can access treatment.

Medicinal cannabis has been proven to help adults and children by reducing seizure frequency regardless of whether their condition is “intractable” by the Texas definition. One study conducted this year showed a whopping 90 percent of epilepsy patients reported success using cannabis products rather than other seizure medication.

In the 28 other states where medical marijuana programs exist for patients, patients have to go through a formal process to be certified to use medical marijuana. Since it’s illegal under federal law to prescribe cannabis, patients can receive recommendations and certifications directly from a physician, enabling them to then seek out legal dispensaries. But under the Texas Compassionate Use, “recommendations” and “certifications” are not technically the same as a “prescription.”

For Fazio, the flawed language in the bill is perhaps the most problematic in that it doesn’t protect doctors. If the bill’s framing stays as it is now, Texas physicians are required to “prescribe” cannabis—which is both illegal and puts doctors in danger of losing their DEA registration.

“This is all legal semantics, and it’s kind of annoying,” Fazio says. “But it is important so that doctors have the confidence they need to move forward with getting their patients access to this medicine that can help them.”

Policy shifts in Texas tend to begin with smaller trial runs in pockets across the state alongside massive lobbying efforts, like those of Fazio and organizations like Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.

In recent years, Texas has had hints of tiny weed victories across the state—Houston’s Harris County, for instance, is currently the only county in the state that allows offenders caught with four ounces or less of the drug the option to take a $150 “cognitive decision” class rather than walk away with a misdemeanor charge on their record as part of new county legislation passed March 1.

In 2015, State Representative David Simpson (R-Longview) submitted HB 2165 in support of recreational marijuana use. A Tea Party-backed Republican, Simpson made a case for a traditionally liberal issue with a deeply conservative, unexpectedly religious backbone: weed, Simpson argued, was made by God. And a righteous God doesn’t make mistakes.

“I’m especially cautious when it comes to laws banning plants,” Simpson writes, “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix.”

As the Compassionate Use Act’s Sept. 1 implementation date approaches, the state is required to issue a minimum of three cannabis business licenses by the end of April. Until then, two companion bills, HB 2107 and SB 269, are in committee pushing for the expansion of both the language and scope of the Compassionate Use Act. If passed, the bills will allow patients to access the medicine they need without a hitch while assuring that Texas physicians are protected.

“It’s allowing them access to this medicine that can greatly improve their quality of life and decrease suffering,” Fazio says. “And ultimately, give them the medicine that can help them in lieu of the pharmaceutical drugs that for many have proven to be dangerous and addictive.”

Texas lawmakers weighing flurry of marijuana-related bills

Originally Posted By By Bob Sechler  11:44 a.m. Thursday, March 30, 2017 Here

Marijuana has become easy to find at the Texas Capitol — at least interms of references to the drug.

More than a dozen bills are pending in the Texas Legislature this session, aimed at lifting prohibitions on Texans who want to use marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.

But it remains to be seen if the legislative effort will result in increased availability of medical cannabis in Texas or decriminalization of all pot for low-volume possession – or if it helps establish a legal, potentially billion-dollar-plus cultivation and processing industry in the state.

Broad legalization for medical purposes, let alone adult recreational use, must overcome opposition from some conservative Texas legislators, as well as from Gov. Greg Abbott.

Still, “the discussion is happening in Texas,” said Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national nonprofit group focused on reforming marijuana laws. “Now more than ever, (Texans) are talking about this issue in a realistic way.”

Fazio and other advocates for easing the state’s restrictions on marijuana celebrated a victory two years ago, when the Legislature passed — and Abbott signed into law — what is known as the Compassionate Use Act, legalizing oils made from cannabidiol for medical purposes. Cannabidiol, commonly called CBD, is found in marijuana plants but doesn’t produce euphoria or a high.

But the new law, which has yet to have any impact because the first Texas CBD dispensaries won’t be licensed until this summer, is restrictive, allowing the compound’s use only for certain patients suffering from a rare form of epilepsy, and only after they’ve first tried two conventional drugs that prove to be ineffective.

A number of bills filed in the current session go much farther, with some potentially legalizing medical use of all parts of the marijuana plant — including tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which does induce a high for users — for any doctor-corroborated debilitating health condition, such as cancer, chronic pain, autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another bill would decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts, defined as an ounce or less, making it a civil, not criminal, transgression. Law enforcement officers would write tickets in such cases instead of making arrests, and culprits would pay fines of up to $250, do community service or attend substance-abuse classes, but they wouldn’t suffer the permanent stigma of having a criminal record and they wouldn’t crowd local courts and jails.

Other proposals would mandate statewide referendums letting Texas voters decide if marijuana should be legal to possess, grow and sell for medical purposes, or if it should be legal among adults for all purposes.

Aside from the profound medical and social issues involved if any of the proposals win approval, the economic impact on Texas could be huge.

Currently, 28 states and Washington, D.C., have broadly legalized marijuana for medical or adult recreational purposes. New Frontier Data, a cannabis market research firm, estimates the 2017 market for marijuana in those states at close to $8 billion, predicting it will double by 2020 and top $24 billion in 2025. The firm estimates the medical marijuana market alone at $5.3 billion now among the states that have broadly legalized it and projects the figure will climb to $13.2 billion in 2025.

The Texas legal market “would be very significant,” depending on the parameters established by state lawmakers, said John Kagia, New Frontier’s executive vice president for industry analytics. “It would unquestionably have the potential to be one of the very largest medical markets in the country, due to the size of the population.”

As things stand, Kagia said, Texas’ restrictive CBD law probably will generate some increased economic activity once it takes effect, but noted “there really is no comparison with the scale of the industry that can be generated” by broader legalization.

Still, filing bills and getting them approved are two different things. Despite the flurry of proposed legislation in Texas, advocates are far from confident they’ll have a second big victory to celebrate when the state Legislature adjourns in late May.

“All of these things are a high hurdle,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, a co-author of House bill 81, the measure that would decriminalize pot possession of an ounce or less in the state. “It’s going to take time and it’s going to take effort.”

Abbott’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the pending marijuana bills, but the governor voiced blanket opposition to legalization in 2015 at the time he signed the Compassionate Use Act, as well to what he called “conventional marijuana” for medical purposes. Some lawmakers also are opposed to loosening any more of the state’s marijuana restrictions, while some law enforcement and business groups have expressed skepticism as well.

As a result, even supporters of full legalization say Texas is unlikely to swing the door wide open any time soon.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who authored House Joint Resolution 46, which would let voters decide the issue, said she hopes her measure advances the debate in Texas but doesn’t expect it to do much else.

“The primary reason I filed this is so we would have that discussion,” Howard said. “But I don’t give it a big chance of actually passing in this Legislature.”

Marijuana advocacy groups generally agree. That’s why they’re mainly pinning their hopes to HB 81 and Senate Bill 170, its counterpart, as well as to HB 2107 and SB 269, two measures that would substantially increase the legality and availability of medical marijuana in the state. State Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, authored SB 269, while state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, authored SB 170.

Of the four, HB 81 — the bill to decriminalize low-volume possession — is the only marijuana-specific bill to garner a committee hearing so date. The bill has some bipartisan support, including state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, as a co-author, and a number of members of Republican organizations have testified in favor of it.

Still, some law enforcement representatives are dubious, saying among other things that low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes, and that there currently isn’t a good, on-the-spot test to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana. The Texas Association of Business also has said some employers question how workplace no-tolerance and safety rules would be affected, although the organization hasn’t taken a position on any of the marijuana-specific bills.

“Cops are going to enforce whatever laws come out of the Legislature,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association. But Lawrence said his group is concerned about what he described as a lack of standardized sobriety tests for marijuana, which could put officers in a position of uncertainty if “we catch (drivers) with marijuana, and marijuana is otherwise legal but we believe they may be impaired.”

Moody, chairman of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee handling the bill, said he thinks procedures can be established for such instances. He has characterized decriminalization as smart government, because time and taxpayer money no longer would be wasted chasing around minor offenders.

“Criminal justice reform has garnered a lot of bipartisan support,” said Moody, who sponsored a similar bill two years ago that made it out of committee but was never taken up by the full House. “It’s hard to predict, but if I am able to get this onto the House floor, I think it will be a very close vote.”

Isaac, a co-author of Moody’s bill and also of HB 2107, concurred, saying members of his party have been slowly coming around to lifting some marijuana prohibitions. During the 2016 Texas Republican Party convention, delegates approved a call in the official platform for “doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to prescribed patients.”

Still, Isaac said many in the GOP oppose lifting any marijuana restrictions because they view it as a foothold for full, even recreational, legalization of the drug. As things stand, he said he’s doubtful HB 2107 — the medical marijuana bill — can win approval unless it’s modified to include a prohibition against letting patients possess marijuana plants in their homes. Currently, the bill would allow qualifying patients to cultivate or possess at least six plants, and potentially more, for their own medical use.

“Right now, (the bill) doesn’t have a chance,” said Isaac, who said he opted to help carry it in part to be in a better position to amend it. Isaac is opposed to full legalization, but said he’s a supporter of medical marijuana and decriminalization.

“Hopefully, a substitute will give (the bill) a good chance of getting out of committee” and onto the floor for a vote, he said. “We’ve got a tough, uphill challenge, but I’m optimistic.”

So are other advocates for lifting marijuana prohibitions in Texas, even as the fate of the various marijuana bills remains uncertain.

“I don’t think it’s a question of if — it’s just when,” said Wil Ralston, a vice president of SinglePoint, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based holding company that provides marketing, payment processing and other business solutions to the cannabis industry in states where it’s legal.

“It’s just kind of a no-brainer,” in terms of the number of Texas patients who could be helped by medical marijuana and the potential business opportunity, Ralston said. “The train has left the station.”