Texas committee hearings see lawmakers focus on cannabis decriminalization, possession and medical cannabis

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

The subject of cannabis reform has been heating up in the Texas legislature recently, with numerous hearings being held to discuss various aspects of cannabis reform.

Hemp, medical cannabis and cannabis decriminalization were the focal points of those discussions.

Although a decision is yet to be made on the subject of cannabis decriminalization in Texas, a bill to expand Texas’ medical cannabis program was approved by a House committee just last week.

Following a vote of 11-0, the House Public Health Committee passed the medical cannabis legislation — HB 1535.  

Chairwoman Stephanie Klick (R) sponsors the bill, which would bulk up the state’s list of qualifying conditions to include cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for veterans.

The passing of HB 1535 increases the THC cap for medical cannabis products in Texas to five percent from 0.5 percent. Additionally,  the bill grants the Department of State Health Services an opportunity to include more qualifying conditions via gubernatorial rulemaking.

Cannabis reform efforts in Texas: Possession 

A separate bill, introduced by Rep. Terry Canales (D), would reduce penalties for possessing concentrated cannabis; shifting the penalty to a class B misdemeanor for possession of 10 grams or a class A misdemeanor if the person has more than 10 grams on their person, but less than 20.

In addition to this, two specific bills HB 99 and HB 441 would prevent people from being arrested for cannabis possession in Texas. Another measure that was pondered over focuses on the removal of penalties for drug paraphernalia possession.

“Bipartisan support for [cannabis] law reform continues to grow as Texas voters see other states reaping the benefits of a more sensible approach,” said Heather Fazio, who assumes the role of director for a coalition known as ‘Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.’ “Fewer arrests for [cannabis] possession means law enforcement can focus on real crime in our state.”

Cannabis reform efforts in Texas: Decriminalization

Of the many proposals that were deliberated over during the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday, April 6, five would effectively decriminalize various amounts of cannabis by modifying the act as a class C misdemeanor. What this means is that individuals caught in possession of the plant with thresholds ranging from one to four ounces will no longer risk jail time. 

Just one bill, HB 441, would stop the cannabis offenses from being added to a person’s criminal record. Although the proposals were not voted on by Members of the House Judiciary Committee, they certainly stimulated debate; proven when the hearing stretched into Wednesday morning.