Recently, marijuana became the most commonly used drug the U.S. And by doing so, it re-sparked the debate on marijuana legalization.
Advocates for legalization cite the drug’s medicinal benefits and argue that consumption should be a matter of personal freedom and choice. Opponents, on the other hand, voice concern over driver safety and claim that marijuana is a gateway drug.
With almost 14.6% of Americans having used this drug within the past year, it’s hard to ignore marijuana’s popularity. More and more states are making it legal to use the plant for medicinal purposes, including all the states that surround Texas (e.g. New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana).
That begs the question: when will marijuana legalization make its way down to the Lone Star State? If at all. This article will provide you with a complete guide to the legalization process of marijuana in the state of Texas.
Greg Abbot Says Grow All the Hemp You Want!
Well, not literally, but…
On June 10th, 2019, Governor Greg Abbott signed H.B. 1325 into law, which gave farmers the right to grow industrial hemp. Hemp is a variety of marijuana that contains less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient that gets users high. But, it’s not the high users are after.
Hemp is a versatile raw material that can be incorporated into a wide range of products. For example, hemp can be found in food, clothing, and skin care moisturizers. Some stores like Purely CBD, a cannabis oil shop in Fort Worth, sell hemp-based CBD oils known for their anti-inflammatory effects.
This bill, sponsored by Rep. Tracy King (D-Batesville), will allow farmers to diversify their fields with hemp, a drought-resistant crop. Doing so could send agricultural profits through the roof since an acre of hemp can rake in more than 5 grand. In fact, news of this legislation sent the stock of Village Farms International (NASDAQ:VFF), a big-time greenhouse grower in Texas, up 2% on the day.
Although this bill doesn’t legalize weed per se, it has made an impact in how marijuana possession cases are handled.
In a move that has Republicans scratching their heads, state prosecutors stopped taking on wrongful possession cases filed after this June 10th signing. This is because law enforcement is having a hard time distinguishing the difference between hemp and marijuana. Previously, Texas authorities just needed to show the presence of THC to make a citation or an arrest. Now, they’ll have to determine the percentage of TCH before making a charge.
This quantitative testing, alone, could cost millions of dollars to implement, making marijuana-related incidents hard to police and subject to scrutiny. Because of this, the office of Tarrant County’s criminal district attorney has dismissed 234 misdemeanor cases already, and prosecutors in Harris and Bexar County have stopped accepting misdemeanor cases.
CBD Oil is Given the “Green Light”
H.B. 1325 also allows for the sale of hemp products, most notably CBD oil. Although consumers are now free to use CBD without fear of punishment, some district attorneys caution buyers to be careful and to wait for more clear and concise laws.
Regulators, too, want stricter laws since some customers are getting duped by false labels. One test revealed that some products were adulterated and contained rat poison, Viagra, and K2. One shop was even accused of selling pure olive oil as their natural CBD remedy!
Regardless, CBD shops aren’t backing down in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. They claim this bill along with the 2018 Farm Bill gives them the legal right to sell hemp-derived products. But to do so, they are required to accurately label their products and submit them to third-party labs to confirm their purity. These store fronts must also register with Texas’ health department prior to open.
Currently, prescriptions with low-THC content like CBD oil are legal for those suffering from intractable epilepsy according the Texas Compassionate Use Act.
Despite the progress, don’t expect hemp fields or CBD shops to dot the shoulder of I-35 anytime soon. The implementation of this bill might take some time before it’s in full effect, possibly until January 1st, 2020 pending USDA approval. That’s why experts are cautioning consumers to be careful, as people have still recently been arrested for the sale and purchase of CBD oil.
Got it? Hemp is okay. Marijuana not so much.
No More Jail Time for Small-Time Offenders, H.B. 63 Proposes
The next bill that should be on your radar is H.B. 63, which was approved by the House on April 29th, 2019 and is headed to the Senate. This bill proposes reducing the penalty for possession of marijuana from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor. In other words, possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana will be akin to getting a speeding ticket.
No more being hauled away in cuffs.
I don’t want to see our jails stock-piled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana.
-Governor Greg Abbott
Compared to other states, Texas has a high arrest rate for these types of cases. For instance, in 2010, over 74,000 people were arrested for possession of marijuana. Interestingly enough, African Americans made up the majority of these arrests despite comprising around 12% of the population.
Although this bill doesn’t legalize possession, it does ease the punishment. Instead of the maximum 180-day jail sentence and $2,000 fine, now citizens will be able to get their charges expunged by participating in a deferred adjudication program all while paying a $250 fine. This means that as long as offenders don’t get any more marijuana-related charges in a 12-month span, their record will be wiped clean.
Proponents argue that H.B. 63 will help eliminate career-ending consequences associated with such charges. For instance, young adults can find it hard to land jobs, find housing, and get into universities when they have a marijuana-related criminal record.
Moreover, lobbyists for this bill claim that reducing the penalties of marijuana-related charges will save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars, which were previously used prosecuting Texans. Even tried and true Republicans are rallying behind certain forms of decriminalization as outlined in the party’s 30-page platform.
But, don’t get ahead of yourself yet!
Currently, this bill relaxing the state’s marijuana laws is having a tough time getting through the Senate. Take Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick’s, word for it:
— Dan Patrick (@DanPatrick) April 30, 2019
Opponents of the H.B. 63 say this bill is just the start and would only help expand access to this drug. Criticized as a gateway drug, some Texan leaders are having a hard time easing restrictions, and they might have a point. Studies by the National Institute of Drug Abuse show that 17% of all admissions to state-funded treatment centers were for an addiction to marijuana.
Whatever the case, Capitol Hill is busy
Now, There’s More Medical Marijuana to Go Around
Now, what if you’re suffering from a severe medical issue, and you want to use medical marijuana as a treatment option? In that case, H.B. 3703 is the bill for you.
This bill, filed by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R – Fort Worth) on June 14th, 2019, expands the list of qualified conditions that physicians can use to prescribe medical cannabis. That means low-dose THC products are now approved to treat ALS, multiple sclerosis (MS), cancer, spasticity, autism, and other degenerative diseases. And, advocates are itching to put PTSD on the next list after more research is published.
When asked about her strategy behind the bill on Texas Public Radio, Klick stated that, “From Day 1, I’ve wanted to take a science-based approach to this.” As a former nurse, the state representative made sure she did her homework on the efficacy of CBD oil before stepping foot on the legislative floor.
The bill would also reduce the number of doctors needed to sign off on a patient’s use from two to one and establish a medical cannabis research program.
At the moment, Texas allows the production and sale of CBD products with low levels of THC. Medicinal CBD products contain 0.5% THC while over-the-counter CBD products are capped at 0.3%. In some ways, the 2019 legislative session was marked by bipartisan progress on issues that have vexed the Legislature for years, most notably school finance. But time and again, key proposals to change the criminal justice system fell flat.
H.B. 3703 is one notable exception, thanks to Rep. Klick.
She’s the one who authored the Compassionate Use Act in 2015 that required the Texas Department of Public Safety to issue licenses to at least three medical marijuana companies by September 2017. Licensees of this act could grow marijuana, produce cannabis-based medication and sell it to patients. In addition, the state agency started a registry of doctors who treat and can recommend cannabis to Texans with epilepsy.
Texas lawmakers are looking after various cannabis-related bills this session. Some, including Klick’s, would expand the qualifying medical conditions for the state’s Compassionate Use Program. Others would reduce criminal penalties for possession of marijuana or legalize hemp, another variety of the cannabis plant that’s low in THC.
Currently, three companies are licensed to produce and sell cannabis-based medication:
- Surterra Texas, which grows and operates in Austin, but its parent company is based in Atlanta.
- Cansortium Texas, which grows and manufactures in Schulenburg, a rural town about 100 miles northeast of San Antonio.
- Compassionate Cultivation founded and led by a group of Texans, who operate in Manchaca, just outside of Austin.
Can I drive while stoned? No! Not only is it not legal to drive under the influence of marijuana in Texas, it’s illegal in all 50 states. Per se DUI laws state that drivers with a certain amounts of THC in their system are considered impaired and could be subject to serious penalties. However, along with the presence of TCH, the state must prove that THC caused you to no longer be “normal,” something that can be quite subjective.
Are medical marijuana patients able to grow their own cannabis? No. Only dispensers with the proper licensure (see above) can cultivate marijuana for use in low-TCH products. The penalty for growing marijuana without licensure can cost you up to 180 days to life in prison or a whopping $2,000 to $50,000 fine. Patients must get physician approval prior to purchasing these low-THC products from licensed dispensaries.
How do I know if I qualify for a Low-THC Cannabis Program? First, to qualify for medical marijuana in Texas, you must be diagnosed by a certified physician with either epilepsy, seizure disorder, autism, incurable neurodegenerative disease, terminal cancer, or spasticity. Second, you must be at least 18 years of age. Third, you must go over a risk/benefit analysis with a qualified physician to determine all possible healthcare options. Fourth, you must be registered to the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas (CURT) by your qualified physician.
Where can I send a complaint on a dispensary or physician? If you have any concerns about the legitimacy of a dispensary or CBD oil shop, please email the Texas Department of Public Safety here. For physicians, you can submit a complaint to the Texas Medical Board, which can be reached here.
Can I smoke my low-THC cannabis? No. Smoking does not meet the “medical use” requirements as outlined by Texas Occupations Code §169.001. This code defines “medical use” as a “means of administration other than by smoking of a prescribed amount of low-THC cannabis for whom low-THC cannabis is prescribed.” The most common form of low-THC cannabis is oil with less than 0.5% THC content or a product with no more than 10% cannabidiol.
What other states have legalized marijuana? Lots! By last count, 11 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized recreation use of marijuana. And, 22 other have legalized marijuana solely for medicinal purposes. For a map, check out this resource by Business Insider. It includes a map as well as a brief breakdown of policy by state.
Is medical marijuana legal in Texas? Technically, yes. Although you won’t find Texas green on the Business Insider heat map (see above FAQ), it is legal on a technical definition basis. Texas’ Compassionate Use Act of 2015 is one of the most restrictive pieces of legislation in the nation. However, H.B. 3703 allows for medical marijuana use if you meet certain medical requirements.
Is recreational marijuana legal in Texas? No. So don’t go sparking up anytime soon.
What are the odds Texas legalizes marijuana? That’s hard to guess. Based off the state’s history of enacting strict marijuana policies it might take some time before something sticks, so don’t expect anything soon. Regardless, according to a poll by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Tribune, over 53% of Texans would like to see some form of legalization. Democrats are more in favor of legalization than Republicans. However, both parties overwhelmingly agree that punishments should be reduced for marijuana possession.
I’m Struggling with Marijuana Addiction. What Should I Do?
Ask for help!
Whatever your take is on marijuana legalization, it’s important to know that marijuana can be abused and may lead to addiction. For those of you suffering from marijuana addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here for you. We have an excellent Admissions Team, who can answer all your questions about addiction, marijuana, treatment options, as well as financing.
Our program incorporates a 12-Step philosophy with top-notch medical and clinical care. While on our campus, just west of Dallas / Fort Worth, you’ll be able to take part in individual therapy, group therapy, equine therapy, and our famous Two-Part Family Program, all while being surrounding by a tight unit of brothers or sisters.
Oh, and did I mention we’re faith-based? That means we’re able to incorporate your spirituality and religious needs into your treatment plan for the perfect blend of mind, body, AND spirit.
No matter where you are in your walk with Christ, it’s important that you attend to your spiritual needs, which is scientifically proven to have added health benefits. Just look at this article by a doctor at Duke University Medical Center if you don’t believe me. Frankly, we’d be doing you a disservice and wasting your money if we didn’t address your faith.
So, come join our recovery community today! We’ve been helping those struggling with all kinds of addiction, including marijuana addiction, since 2010, and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Until next time, Rehab Readers.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction as well as the pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center’s status at the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content creation. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.