Texas lawmakers have been busy at work this week, successfully sending two different bills to Senate after the State’s House of Representatives approved both of them. These bills would not only improve the lives of those affected by the war on drugs, but it would open new opportunities for future drug studies.
HB 441 – Cannabis Decriminalization
The first bill worth noticing is HB 441, which would decriminalize cannabis possession. The current offense for carrying cannabis in Texas is a misdemeanor. This new bill would allow for the possession of one ounce of cannabis without the threat of jail time. Sponsored by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D), HB 441 passed in a 88-40 vote, effectively leaving the decision up to the Senate.
“Today, the Texas House passed HB 441,” Zwiener tweeted the day it passed. “This bill lowers the criminal penalty for possessing small amounts of cannabis and provides a path to expungement. While it still needs to make it through the Senate, I am proud of this legislation and what it means for Texans.”
As a result, low-level possession would not result in an arrest. Instead, offenders will have the opportunity to avoid conviction through deferrals and dismissals. The state will give a $500 fine to anyone who possesses more than an ounce of cannabis. The individual can enter into a please of no contest or guilty if the fine is paid. The case will then be deferred for a year, and based on the judge’s orders, the person can avoid the criminal record of the incident.
“Texas cannabis bills are on the move, and it’s exciting to see bipartisan support for HB 441, which has been carefully crafted to eliminate the threat of arrest and jail time for marijuana possession,” said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “Advocates are already gearing up for action in the Senate. If given a fair shot, HB 441 could earn enough support to pass into law.”
HB 1535 – Medical Expansion
Another bill to successfully pass through the House was HB 1535, which would add more conditions to the qualifying list for medical cannabis. These conditions include cancer, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The bill passed 134-12, after being approved by the House Public Health Committee earlier that month.
Not only does this bill add those three conditions, but it also allows for the Department of State Health Services to consider the additional conditions in the future through administrative rulemaking. Finally, it raises the THC cap for medical cannabis products from .5 percent to five percent.
Believe it or not, these aren’t the only ways cannabis has progressed in Texas recently. Earlier this week, lawmakers sent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) a bill that would clarify the criteria regarding child protective services. According to the bill, a positive cannabis test alone isn’t enough to remove a child from their home.
Unfortunately, the Texas Senate is notorious for killing these efforts. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, declared a cannabis decriminalization bill “dead in the Texas Senate” in Texas in 2019.
“We’re always listening on the health issues, but we’re not going to turn this into California,” Patrick said. “Where anybody can get a slip from the doctor and go down to some retail store and say, ‘You know, I got a headache today, so I need marijuana,’ because that’s just a veil for legalizing it for recreational use.”