Texas is joining the states weighing whether to expand legalized uses of marijuana, with state legislators filing almost a dozen bills related to marijuana use in advance of the legislative session, which began on January 8. (In Texas, the state legislature meets biannually for a 140-day session.) Texas first established a limited compassionate use program for medical marijuana in 2015, and three dispensaries are currently in operation under that program. However, due to limitations in the conditions for which medical cannabis can be prescribed, less than 1,000 people have been able to avail themselves of the program. (Under the Texas compassionate use program, in order to receive a legal prescription for low-THC CBD oil, a patient must (i) have intractable epilepsy, (ii) have already failed at least two other legally prescribed therapies and (iii) have approval from two state-recognized specialized neurologists.)
Certain bills would expand the list of conditions for which medical cannabis can be prescribed, including glaucoma, cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism, Crohn’s disease and PTSD. Another bill, which would institute more sweeping changes, decriminalizes possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. The Harris County (which contains the City of Houston) District Attorney’s office, has, for the past year, experimented with a diversion program for individuals who possess less than four ounces of marijuana. Individuals who participate in the program, which was created by the county because of expenditures on enforcement efforts with a limited public safety benefit, can avoid arrest, court dates or criminal records if they agree to participate in an education program. The prospects for these bills remain uncertain given the lack of support from key state leaders, particularly Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate.
Additional uncertainty remains given that cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. The Obama administration Department of Justice (DOJ) had shown some flexibility on state efforts to legalize uses of cannabis; however, Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that guidance. With Sessions’ resignation in November 2018, and the AG position currently vacant, it is unclear what the future will hold, although a return to the more flexible Obama-era policy is unlikely.