AUSTIN, TEXAS. 15 May, 2015 – In an apparent about-face Rep. Todd Hunter has refused to schedule two marijuana bills for debate on the Texas House floor. Hunter had previously agreed to bring House Bills 507 and 2165 to the floor, according to Heather Fazio, Texas Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project. However, the bills were left pending in the Calendar Committee by chairman Hunter, effectively killing legislation that could have catapulted Texas into contention as having the nation’s most progressive cannabis laws.
That’s right – Texas, leading the pack. No one saw that coming. The passage of the two bills has been nothing if not dramatic. With words like “historic” being bandied about, the measures cleared key votes last week. These are heady times for the Lone Star State with eleven marijuana bills floating around the legislature and battle lines being drawn where they were least expected.
- House Bill 2165, introduced by Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) is not some squeamish, weasel-worded “lite” legalization. The bill would eliminate all penalties for marijuana and fully legalize the plant, treating it like any other crop – zucchini, for example – with one exception; it would be illegal for children to be given the drug, unless medically approved in special circumstances.
- By comparison House Bill 507, introduced by Rep. Joe Moody (R-El Paso), is a modest decriminalization measure supported by over 60% of Texans, according to recent polls. The bill would have decreased the penalty for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to a fine of up to $250, with no arrest or criminal record.
The bills were always long-shots. Against near-impossible odds, they made it this far, in a win for individual liberty that seems consistent with Texan values and public opinion. Lawmakers who favor reform have never had more cover than they do now, especially with Simpson’s compelling religious rationale for legalization. The unlikely champions who emerged in this battle have established a new coalition that is gathering momentum in Texas. Their victories this time around will likely be seen as a watershed moment in the state’s sluggish march toward ending a senseless and costly prohibition voters are ready to leave behind.
Time runs out on the Texas legislative session on June 1st. Each bill would have to reach the floor for a full House vote, and have companion Senate bills do the same, by that date in order to have a chance at becoming law. Then they would face another hurdle – Gov. Greg Abbott is leaning toward a veto.
Supporters of the measures are discussing a last ditch effort to have the bills debated, but without Hunter’s support the bills are dead. In the meantime House Bill 892 is still alive and could come up for a successful House vote and get to Gov. Abbott’s desk this year.
“It would make CBD oil, which is an extract of the cannabis plant, which is low-THC, non-pyschoactive, available to people who have intractable epilepsy,” HB892 uthor, Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth ) said. “It’s cannabidiol, which we believe is the beneficial compound that quells a lot of the seizures, but it’s also low-THC, which means there’s no high affiliated with it. It has no street value, so it has low risk of abuse.”
The companion bill by Sen. Kevin Eltife passed out of the full Senate last week. Gov. Abbott appears likely to sign the new law, if passed.