The Texas Senate has approved House-passed bills to reduce criminal penalties for possessing marijuana concentrates and require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA. But because senators amended both pieces of legislation, they must first head back to their originating chamber before they can be sent to the governor’s desk.
Meanwhile, advocates are closely monitoring a separate bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, which cleared the House and was referred to a Senate committee on Thursday. But the fate of that proposal remains murky as a legislative deadline approaches. It must be acted on in the Senate State Affairs Committee in order to advance to the floor, and the end of the session is nearing.
Under HB 1802, which passed the Senate on Saturday in a 25-5 vote, the state would be required to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center. As amended by a House committee, it would also mandate a clinical trial into psilocybin for veterans with PTSD, in addition to a broader review of the scientific literature on all three substances.
The Senate adopted a balanced budget amendment to the bill clarifying that the psychedelic studies wouldn’t be carried out unless there’s funding allocated the effort—a situation already accounted for by a contingent rider for the funds.
Former Gov. Rick Perry (R), who also served as U.S. energy secretary, has called on lawmakers to approve the psychedelics legislation.
The cannabis concentrates measure that also advanced through the Senate is a modest reform compared to another proposal to more broadly decriminalize marijuana possession that recently passed the House but has since stalled. But if enacted, HB 2593 would mark the first time that Texas has reduced penalties associated with marijuana since the 1970s.
The legislation, which the Senate approved by a vote of 24-7 on Friday night, would make possession of up to two ounces of concentrates a class B misdemeanor, which does still carry the threat of jail time—but it would be significantly less serious than the felony classification such offenses currently come with.
Senators added an amendment before passing the bill, however, to calculate THC potency in legal hemp products by counting all forms of tetrahydrocannabinol, a change that would upend the market for delta-8-THC products.
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“This is concerning since hundreds if not thousands of Texas businesses, who have survived the economic impacts of the pandemic, will be impacted, as well as the many customers who have benefited from these products,” Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Legality based on the chemical makeup of a plant is expensive, ineffective and a failed policy.”
It’s not clear when the House will consider accepting the changes to the marijuana and psychedelics bills, but the session is set to end on May 31. If the body approves the Senate-amended legislation, it will go to Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has not yet publicly weighed in on either measure.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who as the Senate’s presiding officer decides if and when legislation will advance, is a vocal opponent of marijuana reform and has played a role in killing or slowing down cannabis measures.
The current House-passed medical cannabis expansion measure, for example, was not referred to a Senate committee until several days after it arrived in the chamber, a delay that has jeopardized its chances of clearing a floor vote by the end of the session.
The bill, HB 1535, would add cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as conditions that could qualify people for the state’s limited medical cannabis program.
It would further allow the Department of State Health Services to add more qualifying conditions via administrative rulemaking. And it would also raise the THC cap for medical marijuana products from 0.5 percent to five percent.
The House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session. Patrick declared the measure “dead in the Texas Senate,” stating that he sides with lawmakers “who oppose this step toward legalization of marijuana.”
That said, Patrick and other legislators acknowledged early this year that modest proposals would be taken up and potentially approved during the 2021 session, particularly as it concerns expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program. The lieutenant governor said, “sure, that will be looked at this session” when asked about the prospect of expanding access to medical marijuana in January.
Separate legislation to clarify that a positive marijuana test alone is not sufficient criteria for removing a child from their home was enacted without the governor’s signature this month and takes effect on September 1, 2021.
One still-pending bill concerns hemp. The Senate Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee advanced the House-passed legislation earlier this week. It would impose rules related to the transportation and testing of consumable hemp products.
But the panel also added an amendment that advocates oppose because it would ban products with more than trace amounts of delta-8-THC products, which they say would deliver an economic blow to the hemp industry. The change’s effect would be similar to the amendment added to the separate cannabis concentrates bill that cleared the full Senate on Friday.
Meanwhile, the House-approved marijuana decriminalization proposal hasn’t been assigned to any Senate committee and doesn’t appear to have a good chance of advancing further this session. It would make possession of up to one ounce of cannabis a class C misdemeanor that does not come with the threat of jail time.
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