Texas’ legislature fails to pass any cannabis policy reforms in 2023
The Texas legislature adjourned on May 29, 2023 without passing any cannabis policy reforms. The House of Representatives passed two important bills, but neither were scheduled for a hearing in the Senate committees they were assigned to. The main impediment to cannabis policy reform remains Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). As Lt. Governor, he controls the agenda of the Senate and is a staunch prohibitionist. There are no term limits on lieutenant governors, and Patrick’s term does not end until early 2027.
HB1805, sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R), would have expanded the extremely limited Texas Compassionate Use Program. The bill would have added chronic pain (if a doctor would otherwise prescribe an opiate), created a 10-milligram volumetric dose (rather than a 1% THC cap), and allowed the Texas Health and Human Services to add ailments to the program. This bill passed the Texas House of Representatives in a bipartisan 127-19 vote. The legislation did not get a Senate committee hearing.
HB 218, sponsored by Rep. Joe Moody (D), would have made possession of up to two ounces of cannabis flower a misdemeanor offense with no jail time nor custodial arrest. It would also have included concentrates of up to one ounce, which any possession of is currently a felony in Texas. The House of Representatives passed this bill in a 87-59 vote. This legislation did not get a Senate committee hearing as well.
For the first time ever, a bill to legalize adult-use of cannabis, HB3652, sponsored by Rep. Joe Moody (D), was given a House committee hearing. A vote was not taken on the measure.
Texas Remains Behind the Times
Texas remains one of only 19 states that still jails people for possession of small amounts of cannabis, and one of only 12 without a comprehensive medical cannabis law. It does, however, have a limited low-THC medical cannabis law that allows patients with certain debilitating medical conditions to access cannabis-based products with no more than 1% THC by weight.
Voters are eager for more comprehensive reform: A recent poll shows 83% of Texans support medical cannabis and 60% support full legalization.
.While the state lags behind, advocates have pushed for progress at the local level. Voters in five cities — San Marcos, Killen, Harker Heights, Elgin, and Denton — passed local decriminalization ordinances in 2022. However, at this point only Killeen, Elgin, and San Marcos have implemented the will of the voters, joining Houston and Austin in not arresting cannabis consumers for possessing small amounts of cannabis. The City Councils in Harker Heights and Denton voted against implementing the voter-passed ordinances.
Texas does not have a statewide ballot initiative process, so these local initiatives are the only method to limit the damages of prohibition at this time. They also help build momentum for statewide decriminalization in the Lone Star state when the legislature returns in 2025.
Texas’ 2021 legislative session adjourned on Monday, May 31. Although several cannabis reform bills were introduced this year, only one very modest reform — HB 1535 — was approved by the legislature. The bill now heads to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk for action.