After an 87th Legislature that saw Texas lawmakers introduce some 60 bills related to reforming the state’s marijuana laws, only two made it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

While pro-marijuana advocates saw cannabis-related bills “moving like never before” this session, state legislators took only incremental steps toward liberalizing marijuana laws, said Director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy Heather Fazio.

“It’s really disappointing to see Texas inching forward while other states around the country … are moving forward with comprehensive medical cannabis programs that offer safe and legal access to this medicine,” Fazio told the San Antonio Report.

Of the two bills approved by the Texas Legislature before the session ended Monday, one became law without Abbott’s signature and one awaits his action.

The most significant marijuana-related legislation passed was a bipartisan measure that expands the Compassionate Use Program, which allows registered doctors to prescribe low-THC medical cannabis to Texas patients who meet specific criteria and/or who have qualifying illnesses. House Bill 1535 – filed by Reps. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth), Donna Howard (D-Austin), Tom Oliverson (R-Houston), Jay Dean (R-Longview), and Four Price (R-Amarillo) – allows patients with all forms of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder to use medical cannabis.

Previously, only people with specific types of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, autism, spasticity, an incurable neurodegenerative disease, and/or terminal cancer could use medical marijuana.

The bill also increases the amount of allowable THC, a cannabis compound called tetrahydrocannabinol that is primarily responsible for marijuana’s euphoric high, in medical cannabis from 0.5% to 1%, and creates research programs that study the medical use of low-THC cannabis in the treatment of certain patients.

The legislation was revised from its original version, which would have increased the THC cap to 5% and added patients with chronic pain to the list of those who qualify for the Compassionate Use Program.

The chair of the public health committee, Klick decided to accept changes made to her bill by the Texas Senate and rather than going through the Legislature’s conference committee – a process that could have killed the bill altogether due to the time it can take for legislation to move through committee.

Dr. Bryon Adinoff, a former Texas resident who is executive vice president of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, called the legislation “window dressing.”

“One percent THC is just CBD, and CBD is now legal throughout the country,” said Adinoff, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction. “Texas just is taking these tiny baby steps when the rest of country is making tremendous strides and now has access to medical marijuana with reasonable amounts of THC.”

CBD, or cannabidiol, is another cannabis compound – legal in Texas – that does not cause a high but has other relaxing properties.

Having received House Bill 1535 on the final day of the session, Abbott has 20 days in which to sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without a signature.

Also winning approval was House Bill 567, which protects the parental rights of any Texas resident who has been prescribed low-THC cannabis for approved medical reasons or who has administered low-THC cannabis to their child for approved medical reasons. The legislation ensures that Child Protective Services can’t remove a child from his or her home if a parent tests positive for low amounts of THC and/or administers low doses of THC to the child.

Filed by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), Candy Noble (R-Murphy), Gene Wu (D-Houston), Keith Bell (R-Athens), and Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Houston), the bill was sent to Abbott on May 4, where it went unsigned for 10 days. Having passed the governor’s action stage, the bill became law without his signature as of May 15 and will become effective on Sept. 1.

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Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) said he is disappointed in what little progress Texas has made in terms of marijuana reform since he first took office in 2015. Menéndez has filed several cannabis-related bills during his tenure, including the failed Senate Bill 90 this session, which would have expanded who can be prescribed medical marijuana in Texas.

“I’m frustrated,” Menéndez said. “Look, ‘Now we’re going to trust anyone that’s 21 or over to carry a gun wherever they want without a permit,’ right? But we can’t trust them and their doctors enough to say whether or not medical cannabis is a good medical therapy for them – that that we don’t trust them enough? I mean, it just makes no sense whatsoever.”

While Menéndez sees the passage of HB 1535 as a small win, Texas is still very behind other states, he said.

Overall, Fazio said Texas cannabis advocates are glad to see state legislators in both parties becoming more open to the idea of liberalizing marijuana laws.

Texas is one of 13 states that have not yet legalized marijuana (or products containing THC) to some extent. Currently, 37 states have legalized marijuana for medical use and 17 states also have legalized it for recreational use.

“While we did only see one bill pass … that makes a change to the Compassionate Use Program, we are thrilled to see so many people still engaged in the process, and to see Democrats and Republicans alike talking about this issue at the Capitol,” Fazio said.

More than 60 marijuana-related bills were filed for consideration in Texas’ 87th legislative session. Among these were bills that could have reduced Texas penalties for marijuana possession or THC concentrates possession, and/or broadened the Texas Industrial Hemp Program.

The overall outcome is disappointing, said MediCure Organics co-owner Luis Maldonado. His San Antonio-based CBD retail shop grows hemp and extracts CBD for various products, but he would like to expand under looser laws for marijuana cultivation.

“The governor and lieutenant governor were praising the fact that alcohol-to-go is now legal in Texas, yet we cannot expand our medical marijuana program,” Maldonado said.

Fazio shared similar sentiments, but pointed to bipartisan support starting to blossom despite a legislative session that prioritized a conservative agenda.

“We will continue to work and we will push to bring reform to the 2023 legislative session,” Fazio said. “We hope to advance meaningful policy changes when it comes to penalties for possession, expanding the compassionate use program in a meaningful way, and of course, to having a conversation that Texans are increasingly eager for, which is legalization as an alternative to prohibition.”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.