Tag Archives: cannabis

Legislative Update: Medical Cannabis (1535) and Hemp (HB 3948)

The 87th Texas Legislature is in session through Monday. We are in the final stretch of a hard-fought mission to reform marijuana laws!

Medical Cannabis – HB 1535

Rep. Stephanie Klick has accepted the Senate amendments to HB 1535 and the watered down medical cannabis bill is on its way to Gov. Abbott’s desk. It’s a bittersweet moment for us. My quote in the Texas Tribune sums it up:

Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, lamented that the proposal in its final form was “unreasonably restrictive,” despite wide bipartisan support for legalizing cannabis.

“While we are glad to see the Compassionate Use Program being expanded, it’s disappointing to see Texas inching forward while other states, like Alabama for example, are moving forward with real medical cannabis programs,” Fazio said. “It’s doing so little and we wish [lawmakers] were doing more.”

Hemp – HB 3948

Rep. Tracy King’s HB 3948 creates an important licensure process for research, cleans up some language for Texas farmers, allows hemp feed, and more. Led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patric and Sen. Charles Perry, the Senate added an amendment with language addressing “synthetics,” which strictly limits Delta-8 products. A conference committee has been established for negotiations. 

They’ll meet sometime soon and their report must be filed by TONIGHT at midnight. Then the House and Senate must vote on and agree to the conference committee report by tomorrow at midnight. We’ll send updates as they are available.

Because we oppose prohibition, I encourage you to contact your legislators about this bill and ask them to remove the Delta-8 languageRegulating Delta-8 and all THC is a much better approach.

(Update HB 2593 Conference Committee striped the Delta-8 language! Their report has been filed in the House and Senate. More info here.)

End of Session Party! (Monday in Austin)

However the chips may fall, we’re proud of the work done by advocates across the state!

Join us in Austin on Monday for an End of Session Party!

Admission is FREE. We’ll have live music, food, and we’re raffling off two pairs of tickets to see Willie Nelson LIVE in Austin this summer!

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!

Feds Admit Marijuana’s Potential To Reduce Opioid Problems

Originally Posted By Tom Angell | May 01, 2017 – Here

A growing body of recent scientific research indicates that legal marijuana access leads to reduced opioid issues, and now the federal government can’t help but admit it.

In a new update to a webpage on cannabis’s medical uses, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that “medical marijuana products may have a role in reducing the use of opioids needed to control pain.”

Reporting the results of studies that the agency funded, the revised NIDA page says that one “found an association between medical marijuana legalization and a reduction in overdose deaths from opioid pain relievers, an effect that strengthened in each year following the implementation of legislation.”

A second federally-funded study “showed that legally protected access to medical marijuana dispensaries is associated with lower levels of opioid prescribing, lower self-report of nonmedical prescription opioid use, lower treatment admissions for prescription opioid use disorders and reduction in prescription opioid overdose deaths.”

Further, the latter study demonstrated that “the reduction in deaths was present only in states with dispensaries (not just medical marijuana laws) and was greater in states with active dispensaries.”

In other words, the federal government knows that the easier it is for people to access legal marijuana, the less likely they will rely on potentially deadly opiate-based drugs.

Other recent research suggests that “medical cannabis treatment may reduce the dose of opioids required for pain relief,” the new update to the NIDA page says, including one study which examined the Medicare program and found that “availability of medical marijuana significantly reduced prescribing of medications used for conditions that medical marijuana can treat, including opioids for pain.”

NIDA is funding a number of additional ongoing scientific investigations on the topic, the webpage says.

The new passage on opioids isn’t seen on the most recently cached version of the NIDA page on the Wayback Machine archived on April 18, suggesting it was added within the past two weeks.

Also last month, a separate study found that spending on prescription drugs through Medicaid is significantly lower in states with medical cannabis laws than in states without medical marijuana.

“If all states had had a medical marijuana law…[annual] total savings for fee-for-service Medicaid could have been $1.01 billion,” the researchers wrote.

The new NIDA website update is the latest development to suggest that the agency may be warming to the idea that legalization isn’t an outright public health disaster and may actually have some benefits.

Last week, when a study found that illegal marijuana use and marijuana use disorders increased significantly more in states with medical cannabis laws than in other states, NIDA Director Nora Volkow and other agency officials went out of their way to admit in a companion editorial that “research to date has not documented an increase in cannabis use by adolescents in the United States overall or in those states that enacted new marijuana laws.”

And in March, NIDA edited another marijuana page on its site to read as slightly more open to the idea that cannabis has medical benefits.

Despite the mounting evidence about marijuana’s potential to reduce opioid issues and NIDA’s admission of the same, other federal officials like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions continue to dismiss the notion that cannabis could be a safer alternative to prescription drugs.

“‘Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse.’ Give me a break,” he said in February. “This is the kind of argument that’s been made out there to just — almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that’s true. Maybe science will prove I’m wrong.”

Now, thanks to NIDA, the Trump administration has the science on marijuana and opioids compiled in one place.

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.

Cannabis is Medicine, Claim Pro Athletes at upcoming Southwest Cannabis Conference & Expo

Cannabis is Medicine, Claim Pro Athletes at upcoming Southwest Cannabis Conference & Expo
Celebrities in Support of Cannabis, Southwest Cannabis Conference & Expo Montell Williams, David Fowler, Marvin Washington, John Salley and many more.

Originally Published Here By Marketwired – Apr 11, 2017

FORT WORTH, TX—  NFL players and other pro athletes gather in Fort Worth at the Southwest Cannabis Conference & Expo to proclaim cannabis is medicine. The event, scheduled for April 21-23, will be held at the Fort Worth Conference Center.

The future of medical marijuana is bright and opportunities abound. NFL and other pro sports are the next battleground. With Jerry Jones and Jeff Sessions acknowledging and accepting medical marijuana, the future is clear.

As de-criminalization of cannabis spreads across Texas, debates continue in governing bodies about how medical marijuana will be responsibly implemented, and if and when other adult use occurs. This is potentially an economic opportunity that hasn’t been seen since the oil boom. For three days over the weekend of April 21-23rd in the Fort Worth area, the American cannabis industry and national experts will discuss how to capitalize on this trend. Even Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones is a part of the discussion as we’ve now heard.

Texas is widely considered to be one of the most lucrative emerging cannabis markets. The Lone Star State has a burgeoning cannabis industry that’s on the cusp of becoming one of the biggest U.S. markets.

This event features a line-up of celebrities, former pro football players, medical professionals and more, all working cohesively to bring about increased cannabis awareness.

The Conference is three packed days of cannabis information, education and networking, including a major expo with 125 exhibitors. Accredited Comprehensive Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoid Medical Cannabis Training (https://swccexpo.com/texas/accredited-cannabis-education). Also, a Women & Cannabis Business Seminar entitled “Stories and Steps from Women in Business” – Getting Started Series” hosted by Genifer Murray, Cannabis Pioneer and Story Simon, former President of Overstock.com. (https://swccexpo.com/texas/women-cannabis-business-seminar)

At a special event on April 21, join Marvin Washington, Boo Williams, Darren Long and many more athletes and medical professionals on the discussion of cannabis and NFL at http://proathletesprocannabis.com.

To watch an interview with Marvin Washington on ABC, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDc3_vZnlHo

Come see what the new world of cannabis will become in the foreseeable future. Even more important is to learn about this business opportunity, which is still in its infant stages. Come to Fort Worth as the American cannabis industry spends a weekend in Texas to explore this emerging trend.

For additional information go to: http://SWCCExpo.com.
Dallas / Fort Worth, Texas
2nd Annual Southwest Cannabis Conference & Expo
April 22 – 23, 2017
Fort Worth Convention Center
Fort Worth, Texas


Image Available: http://www2.marketwire.com/mw/frame_mw?attachid=3128435

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.”

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances Past Committee with GOP Support

Originally posted by Sam DeGrave on Mon., April 3, 2017, 5:07pm CST here

Advocates applauded Monday’s vote, pointing to the more than 61,000 Texans who were arrested for possession of marijuana in 2015.

Marijuana possession could become a fine-only offense under House Bill 81.  SWARE/FLICKR

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee advanced a marijuana decriminalization bill on Monday with the help of two Republicans.

With a 4–2 vote, the committee approved House Bill 81, authored by Chair Joe Moody, D-El Paso, at Monday’s hearing. Under HB 81, police would ticket someone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana rather than charging them with a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to six months in jail.

The measure passed with bipartisan support, but both no votes came from Republican freshmen — Cole Hefner, of Mt. Pleasant, and Mike Lang, of Granbury. Republicans Todd Hunter, of Corpus Christi, and Terry Wilson, of Marble Falls, joined the committee’s Democrats in advancing the bill beyond its first legislative hurdle.

State Representative Joe Moody, D-El Paso (right)  SAM DEGRAVE

“It is a fairly new concept in Texas not to criminalize conduct,” Moody told the Observer. “Part of the problem has been just getting people comfortable with the idea of treating this differently than we have in the past.”

Some Texas Republicans, who have traditionally opposed weakening penalties for drug convictions, seem to be warming to the idea of decriminalizing marijuana possession.

The GOP opposition might have been stiffer Monday had Moody not offered a committee substitute, which is less forgiving than the original proposal. The new version allows judges to elevate the civil offense to a Class C misdemeanor if a violator has already been cited three times for possessing small amounts of pot.

“If you’re going to be a frequent customer, you will be moved into the criminal arena,” Moody said during the hearing.

State Representative Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls  FACEBOOK

It was the substitute that won Moody the vote of the committee’s other Republican freshman. Wilson and his staff have been working with Moody on the bill, and they see the committee substitute as a step in the right direction, according to Jeff Frazier, Wilson’s chief of staff. Wilson is considering signing on to the bill as a joint author.

“Whether or not we end up as a joint author, this is a change we’d like to see in the state of Texas, and we’ll try our best to get those changes made,” Frazier told the Observer Monday.

Wilson may be new to the House, but his support as a joint author could be critically important for Moody. With Wilson, the bill would have two GOP joint authors. Representative Jason Isaac, of Dripping Springs, has already signed on.

Last session, Moody carried a nearly identical measure. Several Republicans, including David Simpson and Bryan Hughes — both of whom are no longer in the House — signed on to Moody’s bill as co-authors in 2013, but no GOP member supported the measure as a joint author, which is a greater show of support.

Moody will need all the help he can get from Republicans, including House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Vice Chair Hunter, who voted in support of the bill on Monday. The proposal now advances to the Calendars Committee, which determines the flow of legislation into the full House. Hunter chairs the powerful committee, which comprises 10 Republicans and five Democrats.

Hunter will play a major role in determining whether HB 81 makes it to the House floor — further than any bill lessening penalties for marijuana offenses has made it in the legislative process.

Advocates applauded Monday’s vote, pointing to the more than 61,000 people who were arrested in Texas for possession of marijuana in 2015, according to Department of Public Safety data.

“The state’s current policy of arresting and jailing people for simple marijuana possession is completely unwarranted,” said Heather Fazio, a spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “Law enforcement officials’ time and limited resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes… No one should be saddled with a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol.”

John Oliver Goes Off On America’s Most Absurd Marijuana Laws

By Rebecca Shapiro 04/03/2017 04:52 am ET

Originally Posted For Huffington Post Here

John Oliver returned on Sunday after a brief hiatus with a detailed story about America’s most counter-productive and antiquated marijuana laws.

In addition to detailing how the U.S. tax code screws marijuana businesses that operate legally within their states, Oliver showed how federal regulations put individuals who were complying with state laws at risk.

“If you have marijuana right now, even if you are acting completely legally according to your state, you may still be in serious jeopardy,” Oliver said. The “Last Week Tonight” host then went through numerous examples of how federal law interfered with people who had medical marijuana prescriptions to treat everything from epileptic seizures to PTSD.

“I know that some people will say, well hold on, the medical efficacy of marijuana needs a lot more study, and that is true,” Oliver said. “The problem is, it’s very difficult to do that because federal laws are standing in the way.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump’s administration have hintedthat the federal government may crack down on states that have legalized recreational marijuana use.

“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions told reporters in February. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”

Watch Oliver’s take-down, including his response to Sessions, in the video above.

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.”

Would legalizing medical marijuana help curb the opioid epidemic?

Originally published by Ronnie Cohen Mon Mar 27, 2017 | 4:46pm EDT here

(Reuters Health) – In states that legalized medical marijuana, U.S. hospitals failed to see a predicted influx of pot smokers, but in an unexpected twist, they treated far fewer opioid users, a new study shows.

Hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent in states after marijuana was permitted for medicinal purposes, the analysis found. Hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent on average.

At the same time, fears that legalization of medical marijuana would lead to an uptick in cannabis-related hospitalizations proved unfounded, according to the report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“Instead, medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers,” said study author Yuyan Shi, a public health professor at the University of California, San Diego.

“This study and a few others provided some evidence regarding the potential positive benefits of legalizing marijuana to reduce opioid use and abuse, but they are still preliminary,” she said in an email.

Dr. Esther Choo, a professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, was intrigued by the study’s suggestion that access to cannabis might reduce opioid misuse.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that battling the opioid epidemic will require a multi-pronged approach and a good deal of creativity,” Choo, who was not involved in the study, said in an email. “Could increased liberalization of marijuana be part of the solution? It seems plausible.”

However, she said, “there is still much we need to understand about the mechanisms through which marijuana policy may affect opioid use and harms.”

An estimated 60 percent of Americans now live in the 28 states and Washington, D.C. where medical marijuana is legal under state law.

Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic – sparked by a quadrupling since 1999 in sales of prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin – kills 91 Americans a day.

Shi analyzed hospitalization records from 1997 through 2014 for 27 states, nine of which implemented medical marijuana policies. Her study was the fifth to show declines in opioid use or deaths in states that allow medical cannabis.

Previous studies reported associations between medical marijuana and reductions in opioid prescriptions, opioid-related vehicle accidents and opioid-overdose deaths.

In a 2014 study, Dr. Marcus Bachhuber found deaths from opioid overdoses fell by 25 percent in states that legalized medical marijuana.

Since last year, when New York rolled out its medical marijuana program, Bachhuber has included cannabis in a menu of options he offers his patients who suffer chronic or severe pain from neuropathy and HIV/AIDS, he said in a phone interview. Bachhuber, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, was not involved in the new study.

Many of Bachhuber’s patients ask for help quitting highly addictive opioids, and some have used marijuana to taper off the prescription painkillers, he said.

Nonetheless, a 1970 federal law puts cannabis in the same category as heroin, Schedule 1 of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, and finds it has no medicinal value. Consequently, doctors can only recommend, not prescribe, marijuana, and physicians who work for the federal government cannot even discuss the weed.

Federal prohibition also has led to severe limitations on marijuana research.

In January, a National Academies report found conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis can effectively treat chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and spasticity. The report, written by an independent panel of medical experts, found no evidence of cannabis overdose deaths.

It did, however, find links between cannabis use and an increased risk of vehicle accidents as well as the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses, particularly among the most frequent users.

Bachhuber lamented the dearth of research on the best ways to use marijuana as medicine.

“We have information that it works based on the National Academies’ report,” he said. “But we don’t know who it works best for, at what dosage, for how long.”

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top cop, reiterated his concerns about marijuana and heroin, an illegal opioid.

“I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana,” he told law enforcement officers in Virginia, “so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/2mRVepg Drug and Alcohol Dependence, online February 21, 2017.