Texas Lawmakers Again Tackle Medical Cannabis Expansion

may be the second most populous state in the country, but it has one of the smallest cannabis industries. 

When lawmakers legalized in 2015, they allowed for a particularly narrow reform. Only three licenses have been awarded to entities to produce and distribute products (like oils and tinctures) that cannot contain more than .5% THC, slightly higher than the limit for hemp, which is .3% THC. The law allows for additional licenses to be awarded, but none have been so far. For years, advocates have pushed for legislation to expand the program, called the Compassionate Use Program, but with little success. 

Among several cannabis-related bills up for discussion this week was HB 1535, a bill that would expand the state’s program by allowing for additional qualifying conditions and for products that contain up to 5% THC. The other bills focus on reducing penalties for and on consumable hemp products. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage on the somewhat blurry line between the state’s hemp and medical cannabis programs.)

The House Public Health Committee meeting on Wednesday heard testimony on HB 1535. The majority of those who spoke were people who used cannabis for therapeutic purposes, and a number of them were veterans. Under the bill, veterans with post traumatic stress disorder would be eligible to participate in the medical cannabis program. 

“The reason I’m testifying on the bill is that if your bill passes, I’ll become a [Compassionate Use Program] patient,” said retired U.S. Army Major David Bass, who also founded Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana, adding that he’s had several cancer-related surgeries and has both chronic pain and PTSD.

“I use cannabis as medicine now illegally,” he continued, “and I use one half gram three times each day in a portable vaporizer instead of taking opioids and psychotropic medications. And I’ve been doing that since 2012. And it takes care of my PTSD and chronic pain and helped me very much after my cancer surgery. And so I’ll be glad to be a [Compassionate Use Program] patient.”

Bass, though, pushed for a higher THC limit than the 5% in the bill, calling instead for 20%, which lawmakers are unlikely to consider. After a little more than an hour of testimony, the bill was left pending.

Lobbying activity in the state suggests significant interest from some of the cannabis industry’s biggest players. As Cannabis Wire reported last year, Canopy Growth registered to lobby in the state, as did Columbia Care. Neither company is among those with a license to provide medical cannabis products in the state. Among those who are, however, is Parallel (formerly Surterra), another one of the biggest players in the industry. The other two licensees are Fluent (Cansortium) and Compassionate Cultivation.

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