All posts by Heather Fazio

Take Action Austin: Support City Council Resolution to Stop Arrests for Marijuana Possession

On Thursday, January 23rd, the Austin City Council will consider Item 59, a resolution that would limit enforcement of low-level possession of marijuana (POM). This will help countless Austin residents avoid the devastating consequences of criminal marijuana enforcement, which disproportionately impact people of color and already-struggling communities. 

Please ask your Council Member to approve this important resolution!

This resolution would do the following:

  • Commit to not wasting city resources on testing THC levels for low-level marijuana offenses
  • To the extent allowable under state law, stop the APD from citing and arresting people for POM cases they know will be rejected by the prosecutors

Special THANKS to the resolution sponsors: Council Member Gregorio Casar, Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, and Council Member Jimmy Flannigan!
View Austin City Council Agenda.

Show up this Thursday, January 23!

The #DecrimATX resolution will be considered in the evening, so show up at City Hall at 5:30pm to register your support for the resolution!

Free parking is available in the City Hall parking garage. Upon arrival, locate a kiosk and register your support for Item 59.

Media Coverage: Texas Tribune | Austin Chronicle |KXAN | Texas Observer | KLBJ 590 (Audio)

Commissioner Sid Miller Announces Public Hearing for State Hemp Program

Hemp was legalized at the state and federal levels in 2019, bringing an end to the prohibition of broad spectrum (low-THC – .3%) cannabis!

Now, regulatory agencies are working to establish rules for implementation, including the licensing of cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers. Sid Miller, our state’s Ag. Commissioner, has announced the first formal hearing to accept public comment on his department’s draft rules, which are currently being considered for approval by the USDA.

Public comment will be accepted at the meeting and written comments can be emailed to TDAHempProgram@TexasAgriculture.gov.

Commissioner Miller’s Press Release

Sid Miller, Commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), announced he will host a public hearing to take public comments on the Texas hemp rules. The rules were published Friday, Jan. 10, on the Texas Register. The hearing will be held on Jan. 22 at 9 a.m. at the Texas Farm Bureau Conference Center in Waco, Texas.

The Texas Hemp Program outline has been sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for approval.  This document and the proposed rules must be approved and finalized before TDA can begin granting licenses to legally grow hemp in Texas.

Proposed rules are published on the Texas Register and are available on the TDA website.

For Frequently Asked Questions about the Texas hemp rules and more information on the upcoming hemp program, visit the TDA website here.

WHEN:Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 @ 9 a.m.
WHERETexas Farm Bureau Conference Center
7410 Fish Pond Road
Waco, Texas, 76710
WHO:Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller 
WHAT:Public hearing to take public comments on the Texas hemp rules

Related: The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is considering draft rules to regulate consumable hemp products. Most of the rules are acceptable, but they are setting outside of their statutory authority with a provision that would ban “smokable” hemp. Read more here.

HISTORIC: Thanks to you, 2019 was a great year for Texas!

Thanks to you and the millions who support cannabis law reform in our state, 2019 was a year of historic progress!

HEMP: State and federal legalization of hemp! This plant is not only valuable therapeutically, but there’s a huge market opening up for Texas farmers and entrepreneurs. Rules and regulations are still be developed, but legal hemp will soon be grown and sold in Texas!

MEDICAL CANNABIS: Expanded access to the Compassionate Use Program!
The program is still unreasonably restrictive, but as of 2019, more patients have access to medical cannabis being cultivated, processed, and sold in dispensaries right here in Texas. Patients deserve access to full spectrum cannabis and we will keep fighting!

MARIJUANA PENALTY REDUCTION:For the first time, the Texas House approved a bill to reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession! The bill passed with bipartisan support and was backed by the governor, but didn’t get a vote in the Senate (thanks to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick). We have nearly a year to influence him and earn his support in 2021!

STATEWIDE IMPACT: Because of shifting laws and public opinion, Texas state police (DPS) and law enforcement in all metro areas are now issuing citations for marijuana possession, rather than making arrests.

ENCOURAGING NEWS: Just last week, Governor Greg Abbott pardoned two Texans who had lived many years with marijuana convictions! Now, with a clean record, these individuals may be able to further education, get a good paying job, and attain safe housing. Hopefully, they are the first of many pardoned for the-never-shoulda-been-a-crime of marijuana possession.

To make all of this possible (and thanks entirely to your support!), we worked with our allies to host training events, educational exhibits, lobby days, press conferences, and the second annual Texas Marijuana Policy Conference. We put together resource materials for lawmakers, worked with their staff, and pushed hard for votes on important bills. We’ve earned statewide media coverage and put a professional foot forward to advance our shared cause.

Let’s keep up our momentum and utilize 2020 as an opportunity to set ourselves up for success when the legislature convenes in January 2021!

Texas Hemp Update | December 17, 2019

Long awaited draft rules relating to the cultivation, manufacture, and sale of hemp and hemp products have been released!

In January, the United States legalized low-THC cannabis (.3%), defining it as hemp and authorizing interstate commerce. Texas followed suit in June. Since then, we’ve all been waiting for rules to be drafted with details about licensing, testing, and other requirements.

At long last, the USDA published their interim rules, allowing states to submit their regulatory plans for approval. In this December 2 letter to the USDA, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller did just that, setting Texas up to establish what could be the largest hemp market in the country.

Once our state plan is approved, The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) will have to go through the formal approval process for state regulations, so there is time to amend the draft rules if necessary. More information about the Texas Hemp Program can be found here.

RELATED: The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is tasked with regulating consumable hemp products. While many of their recently proposed rules are reasonable, they are attempting to prohibit in-state sales of “smokeable” hemp, something they don’t seem to have the authority to do. More here.

Texas Regulators Push to Ban Retail Sales of Hemp Flower

Earlier this year, both the state and federal governments legalized low-THC (.3%) cannabis, defining it as hemp and clarifying ambiguity created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

With the laws changed, hemp (including flower) has become widely available in shops throughout the state. Consumers have been free to use this legal, low-THC cannabis however they so choose.

However, new rules being proposed by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) would ban the retail sales of “smokable” hemp products, something they do not seem to have the authority to do.

“Rule §300.004 MANUFACTURE OF SMOKABLE HEMP PRODUCT. (a) The processing, manufacturing, and retail sale of consumable hemp products for smoking is prohibited.”

State law, as instituted with the passage of HB 1325 in June, does prohibit the processing or manufacturing of smokable hemp products in Texas, but it does not prohibit the retail sales of products that are processed or manufactured outside the state and sold in Texas, as long as those products are in compliance with federal and state law.

DSHS’s proposed rules are up for consideration through December 31, 2019 and they are accepting public comment. If you are concerned about this issue (or anything else in the proposed rules), take time to contact the department with thoughtful feedback.

Email DSHSHempProgram@dshs.texas.gov or mail comments to:

Department of State Health Services, MC 1987
Hemp Program Comments
8407 Wall Street
Austin, Texas, 78754

A public hearing was hosted on December 17, 2019, but very few people were there to testify.

RELATED: Texas Hemp Update!

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: Friday, 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
AustinSaturday, January 25 | Houston: Wednesday, January 29
(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!