Apr 11, 2023
A Step Towards Opioid Alternatives and THC Regulation Reform
The Texas House of Representatives has given initial approval a bill that would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients as an opioid alternative for chronic pain, bringing it one step closer to final passage in the chamber.
The legislation from Rep. Stephanie Klick (R)—which would also replace the THC cap that was established under the state’s existing limited medical cannabis law—cleared the chamber in a 121-23 vote on second reading Tuesday. It needs to be approved one more time in the House before potentially moving to the Senate.
This vote also comes weeks after a separate House panel unanimously approved a bill to decriminalize cannabis possession in the state while providing a pathway for records expungement.
The medical marijuana expansion legislation, which moved through the House Public Health Committee last month, would replace the one percent THC cap for cannabis oil from with a volumetric dose of 10 milligrams.
It would also expand eligibility for low-THC marijuana products by granting legal access to patients with “a condition that causes chronic pain, for which a physician would otherwise prescribe an opioid.”
Importantly, the bill further stipulates that regulators at the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) could approve, through rulemaking, additional debilitating medical conditions to qualify patients for the cannabis program. If enacted, the bill would take effect starting on September 1, 2023.
Advocates at groups like Texas NORML have been encouraging supporters to reach out to their lawmakers and encourage them to approve the reform.
“Passage of this legislation will provide qualified patients with a state-sanctioned option to access a therapy that has proven to offer significant benefits,” Texas NORML Executive Director Jax James said in a press release on Tuesday. “Medical cannabis is an objectively safer alternative to the array of pharmaceutical drugs that it could potentially replace."
While advocates would like to see the conservative legislature enact more holistic medical cannabis legislation, or end prohibition altogether, the measure does represent a significant expansion, while also recognizing the potential of cannabis as an opioid alternative.
The full Texas House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session. Lawmakers have since been unable to pass additional expansive cannabis bills in recent sessions.
For his part, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said that he doesn’t believe people should be incarcerated over low-level marijuana possession. However, the governor incorrectly suggested last year that lawmakers have already adopted the policy statewide.
House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said in September that he will work to enact criminal justice reform in the 2023 session, and he again expressed support for lowering penalties for marijuana possession.
The Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank endorsing decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2018, but that was later rescinded.
A poll released last month found that a majority of Texas voters say that the state’s marijuana laws should be “less strict.”
Also last month, Texas lawmakers filed three bills aimed at expanding research on the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. Those measures, if enacted, would build on a modest psychedelics study law enacted last session.
Meanwhile, there’s also been a surge of local action on marijuana issues under home rule laws in Texas over recent years.
Major cities like Austin have already enacted decriminalization locally at the ballot, and voters passed the reform in five other Texas cities this past November.