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.

Texas Hemp: Public Hearing Set for October 3 in Austin

Texas is preparing to crack down on hemp and CBD sales.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will host a public hearing on October 3 in Austin to accept comments about the regulation of consumable hemp products (including CBD) and the permitting of retailers who sell these products.

While we certainly support reasonable regulations, it’s important that we are vigilant so DSHS doesn’t create unreasonable restrictions on hemp products, which are helping so many Texans. Here is a great FAQ, including the scope of work they’ve been tasked with. If you would like to submit your input, you can do so in person on October 3 or via email:DSHSHempProgram@dshs.texas.gov.

What’s the status of the Texas Hemp Program?

While DSHS is in charge of regulating consumable hemp products, our hemp program is mostly regulated by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). Before establishing our state rules, TDA must submit their plan to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for approval.

As of today, the USDA is still working to determine their standards for vetting state plans. These standards could be finalized any day now and, once our state plan has been approved, TDA can proceed with rule-making. After rules are finalized, TDA can move forward with permitting in-state hemp cultivation and manufacturing.

Interesting Note: Our Texas hemp law prohibits in-state manufacturing of “smokeable” hemp products. However, it does not prohibit the sale, possession, or use of smokeable hemp that has been imported from another state. Earlier this month, Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Southern District of Indiana ruled that Indiana’s law criminalizing the manufacture smokable hemp is unconstitutional. 

It will be interesting to see how this affects Texas’ law and implementation.

Texas Compassionate Use Program – Accepting New Business Applications Starting Oct.1!

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced this week that, in anticipation of an increase in demand for low-THC cannabis, they will reopen the application process for dispensing organization licenses on October 1, 2019. Applications will be accepted through November 1, 2019.

Background

The Texas Compassionate Use Program (T.CUP) was established in 2015, providing access to low-THC (.5%) cannabis for those with intractable epilepsy. Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature expanded access to T.CUP by adding the following qualifying conditions: all seizure and epilepsy disorders, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, incurable neurodegenerative diseases, ALS, and autism. 

Despite efforts to remove the arbitrary cap on THC, lawmakers chose to continue limiting dosing options for doctors and patients. And, sadly, most patients are still being left behind without legal access to medical cannabis.

DPS is in charge of the program’s rules and regulations, which are maintained by the Public Safety Commission (five members appointed by the governor). Currently, three businesses are licensed to cultivate, manufacture, and dispense low-THC cannabis. Licensing fees for approved businesses are outrageously high —  nearly $500,000 for the first two years and more than $300,000 every two years for renewal. (There may be a chance for a change in this licensing cost. More on this soon.)

Details about the rules, regulations, and application process can be found on the DPS website. Patients wishing to participate should review this FAQ and consult their doctor.

DSHS Considers Additional Qualifying Conditions for Access to Compassionate Use Program

Proposed New Rule Relating to Designating Incurable Neurodegenerative Diseases

Austin – The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) recently held a public hearing to accept public comments on the proposed new rules to implement House Bill 3703, relating to designating incurable neurodegenerative diseases.

About a dozen people, including patients and caregivers, attended this hearing with half of them offering testimony about the proposed rule.

Background

Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature made only minor changes to the Texas Compassionate Use Program (T.CUP), expanding access from those with intractable epilepsy to those with the following conditions:

  • All seizure and epilepsy disorders
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Spasticity
  • Autism
  • ALS
  • Terminal Cancer
  • Incurable Neurodegenerative Disease

As directed by the recently passed legislation, DSHS is seeking to define “incurable neurodegenerative disease.” Their proposed definition: a condition, injury, or illness that occurs when nerve cells in the brain or peripheral nervous system lose function over time and for which there is no known cure.

This definition would add more than 100 conditions, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, to the list of those that qualify a patient for access to the Compassionate Use Program. Find the full proposed list here.

Many Texas families could benefit from access to the Compassionate Use Program and it’s great to see DSHS moving quickly to define what conditions will qualify as an “incurable neurodegenerative disease.” While we’d prefer that doctors be completely in charge of who has access to this medicine, the department is working within the parameters created by lawmakers.

One of the biggest problems that remains with this medical cannabis program is the legislature’s unreasonable restriction on dosing. Even if approved, the patients on this list only have access to low-THC (0.5%) cannabis, a product that is marginally more effective than the hemp products that can be purchased over the counter (0.3% THC).

This point is especially important considering the therapeutic nature of THC. In 2016, “Salk Institute scientists have found preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.” More info here.

Until the legislature removes their arbitrary cap on THC, the relevance of the Compassionate Use Program remains in question. 

For updates and action alerts about Texas marijuana policy, please sign up for email notifications.

Recap: Texas Marijuana Policy Conference was a success!

It was a pleasure to host the second annual Texas Marijuana Policy Conference and I’m so grateful for everyone who made it a great event. BIG THANKS to the hundreds who attended, our generous sponsors, dedicated volunteers, and valued partner organizations. Teamwork is key to making legislative progress and we’ve got a great team!

Our two headlining speakers were Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg and State Senator José Menéndez. Both elected officials are assets to our movement toward reform and offered powerful speeches at the conference last weekend. 

Harris County DA Kim Ogg

From the Statesman, August 31 – DA Ogg: “‘When I proposed to Houstonians that I thought it was more important to spend that money testing 8,000 rape kits that have been left on the shelves of Harris County for almost a decade, the public agreed,’ Ogg said to loud applause in a crowded ballroom at the downtown Sheraton Hotel. ‘It’s what our people wanted us to do.’

“Most recently, Harris County has said it will reject all new marijuana cases without testing, which is now required to distinguish illegal marijuana from legal hemp and comes at a high cost. Most other large Texas counties, including Travis County, have followed suit.”

And Sen. Menéndez said during his passionate speech:

 “I filed the legislation because i think it’s simple: government needs to stop picking winners and losers for choosing medicine when there are alternatives that are effective ways to treat patients and their families.

“It should be doctors and patients deciding medication. It should be the doctors practicing medicine, not the legislature.”

Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana were interviewed by Spectrum News:

More photos and videos from the event will be uploaded to our Facebook page as soon as they’re ready later this week. (Follow our page for social media updates.)

Our journey toward the 2021 legislative session has begun and there is a lot of work to do!

As we look toward the future, please consider ways you can join or step up your involvement in our efforts to change laws. One of the best ways to help is by becoming a sustaining member with a monthly contribution. Reliable grassroots support every month goes a long way in helping us build and maintain momentum! Become a sustaining member today.

Over the next several months, we’ll be working to empower advocates and rally support for reform by:  

  • offering updates on the regulatory progress for hemp and medical cannabis,
  • hosting regional advocacy training events,
  • recruiting policy experts, medical professionals, and subject matter specialists,
  • publishing a primary and general election voter guide,
  • supporting political convention delegates,
  • engaging media statewide,
  • and preparing for the third annual Texas Marijuana Policy Conference!

Thank you for your support and dedication to our shared cause.

Onward!

(Photography courtesy Kelsi Leigh.)

CLE Approved! Texas Marijuana Policy Conference | Friday, August 30

We are proud to partner with Texas A&M School of Law to offer continuing legal education (CLE) credit for several sessions at the upcoming Texas Marijuana Policy Conference in Austin!

The Labor Day weekend event features dozens of breakout sessions, nearly 100 policy and industry experts, and several exceptional keynote speakers, including Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. Event details and registration can be found here.

The following sessions are open to all conference attendees, but attorneys are especially encouraged to attend to earn up to 4 CLE credit hours on Friday, August 30:

11:15am Sessions
The Texas Compassionate Use Program: What is Covered, Who Qualifies, and What’s Changed? (CLE Accredited)

  • John Pitts Jr. (Texas Star Alliance)
  • Chase Bearden (Coalition of Texans with Disabilities)
  • Lisa Pittman (Partner, Thomas Pittman P.C.)

Federal Marijuana Prohibition: The Current Landscape and A Review of Proposed Legislation. (CLE Accredited)

  • Professor Franklin Snyder (Texas A&M School of Law)
  • Michael Correia (National Cannabis Industry Association)
  • Justin Strekal (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws)
  • Margot Witvliet, Ph.D. (Lamar University)

2pm Session – Marijuana Prohibition from a Law Enforcement Perspective (CLE Accredited)

  • Pete Stout, Ph.D (Houston Forensics Science Center)
  • Shannon Edmonds (Texas District and County Attorneys Association)
  • Professor Julie Stone (Adjunct professor at Texas State and former prosecutor with Texas Attorney General’s office)

3:15pm Session – Hemp in Texas: Issues in Implementation (CLE Accredited)

  • Courtney Barnes (Associate Attorney, Vicente Sederberg LLP)
  • Chelsie Spencer (Partner, Ritter Spencer PLLC)
  • Richard Y. Cheng (Partner, DLA Piper, LLP)

4:30pm Session – Legal and Scientific Issues in Increasing Medical Cannabis Research (CLE Accredited)

  • Sue Sisley, MD (Lead Investigator, Scottsdale Research Institute)
  • Shane Pennington (Attorney, Yetter Coleman LLP)
  • Matthew Zorn (Attorney, Yetter Coleman LLP)

The laws surrounding medical marijuana and hemp cultivation in Texas, and the rest of the United States, have been changing rapidly. With an expanded Texas Compassionate Use Act for certain medical uses of cannabis and the legalization of hemp cultivation in the state, the legal landscape is in flux. The legal landscape, in turn, is embedded into broader questions of federal administrative regulations, medical research and forensic science issues, and public policies regarding public health, public safety, agriculture, and commerce. This program will bring together legal academics, lawyers, medical researchers, forensic scientists, public policy experts, and legislative lobbyists to bring lawyers up to date on the changing patchwork of legalization in Texas.

The five accredited sessions are a joint product of the Texas A&M University School of Law and Texans for Responsible Marijuana, a Texas nonprofit association. While there are five hour-long sessions, two are running concurrently, so a maximum of four hours of CLE credit can be earned. More detail about each session here.

Register now:

 

Interested in the Texas cannabis industry? Join us over Labor Day weekend!

The primary focus of this year’s Texas Marijuana Policy Conference is to share information and rally action to advance more sensible and compassionate laws in our state. This year, in addition to discussing policy and advocacy, we will offer several sessions to provide industry information to consumers, entrepreneurs, and investors.
Texas Marijuana Policy Conference
Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 2019
Sheraton Austin at the Capitol
701 E 11th St, Austin, Texas 78701
 
Register now to secure your tickets, including opportunities to bundle and save on your conference registration and hotel room reservation!

Here is just some of the content you can expect at this conference over Labor Day weekend
:
  • Investing in Cannabis with Matt Nordgren (Arcadian Fund)
  • Cannabis Jobs: Working in the Industry with Trey Tijerina (Texas Cannabis Business Alliance)
  • Patients: Resources and what you need to know in Texas with
    Christina Burke (Compassionate Cultivation)
  • Entrepreneurs: Building your brand, your team, and your network with Robert Head (Blue Cord Farms), Seth Nyer (Bee Delightful), Elizabeth Hogan (Willie’s Remedy), and Trey Tijerina (Moderator)
  • Processing Cannabis in Texas (Technology and Best Practices) with
    Jennifer Blossom (Xabis Processing Laboratory, Compassionate Cultivation)
  • Product Accountability: Labs, Testing, and Labeling with
    Tori Strong, Ph.D (Vyripharm Biopharmaceuticals, Texas Medical Center)
  • Cannabis Consumer Education: Identifying Quality Products with
    Mary Olivar (Greenbelt Capital), Chelsey Lewis (PrimaHemp), Amanda Crawford (My Jane), Jae Graham (MaryJae)
  • Finances: Taxes, Accounting, and Banking with Summer Wilkinson, CPA (Leaf Book CFO Services LLC) and Rachel Kennerly, CPA (The Grow CFO)

See our full event schedule here and register to attend. (Please consider an additional donation to help cover the cost for a patient or caregiver who would like to attend, but may not otherwise be able to afford to do so.)

Discounted hotel room rates expire on Thursday, so don’t wait to make your reservations!

Grassroots Action for Legislative Reform