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Politics

Texas Takes Tiny Steps Toward Expanding Medical Marijuana Program

Marijuana and a pipe on a Texas flag
Julia Reihs
/
KUT

More Texans may soon be eligible to be prescribed low-THC cannabis oil after the Legislature approved a bill to expand the state’s compassionate use program.

The bill awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott's signature increases the amount of THC allowed in medical marijuana from 0.5% to 1%, and opens eligibility for the program to people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and any type of cancer.

THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that makes people feel high.

But House Bill 1535 is much different than the one filed by Republican state Rep. Stephanie Klick back in March. That version would have raised the maximum amount of THC allowable in medical marijuana oil tenfold, from 0.5% up to 5%.

Many people who testified on the bill throughout the session said 5% was still too low. Others said a limit should be done away with completely, arguing the amount of THC should be determined by patients and their doctors.

The bill, which passed out of the House with the 5% limit, also sought to make more medical conditions eligible for the program, including post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain for which an opioid might be prescribed, and any form of cancer. Legislation passed in 2019 limited the program to people suffering from terminal cancer.

Under the Senate's version of the bill, though, the THC limit was stripped back and chronic pain was dropped as an eligible condition.

With time running out on the 87th legislative session, Rep. Klick accepted the Senate bill in order to get it to the governor’s desk.

Several other marijuana bills did not make it to Abbott, including HB 2593 from Democratic Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso. The legislation would have reduced the criminal penalties for possession of THC concentrates. This includes items like pre-packaged edibles and drinks containing THC, as well as cartridges loaded with THC oil, which are smoked with a vaporizer or pen.

Products like these have become commonplace as more states have legalized marijuana — either recreational, medical or both — but possession of any amount of concentrates in Texas is a felony.

The bill would have reduced possession of 2 ounces or less of THC concentrates to a class B misdemeanor. Both the Senate and House approved the bill, but lawmakers couldn’t reconcile the two versions in time to get something to the governor.

Same goes for House Bill 3948, which would have made small changes to the state’s hemp program, which got its start during the 2019 legislative session.

Got a tip? Email Jerry Quijano at jerry@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.

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