The Texas GOP Tentatively Embrace Marijuana Reform

iStock_000009135835_ExtraSmallOn May 16th, 2016, the Texas GOP signaled a profound change of stance with regard to marijuana laws in Texas. Thanks to the dedicated work of many activists within the Republican Party, the State GOP adopted two resolutions with profound implications for the future of marijuana law in the Lone Star State.

The first resolution is the most straightforward, and the least controversial step in marijuana law reform. The plank was adopted with 71% of those in favor. The resolution reads as such:

Plank 206: “Hemp Cultivation – We support legislation allowing for industrial hemp cultivation in Texas.”

This should not come as a surprise to anyone watching marijuana reform in Texas. In 2015, House Bill 557 introduced by State Rep. Joe Farias (D, San Antonio) unanimously passed the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. This was particularly noteworthy because of the committee’s large number of more conservative Republicans. Farias’s bill would have allowed for the cultivation of hemp for research purposes in Texas.

Unfortunately, with less than two months left in the session, Rep. Farias’s bill was passed out of committee in early April, and the calendar committee did not move on the bill. Thus, the bill died at the end of the 2015 session.

Although the bill died, the seeds of hemp reform were planted, and those seeds have grown firmly into the State GOP platform.

Medical Marijuana
The second resolution adopted by the Texas GOP is the more noteworthy of the two and indicates a shift in the party’s view on medical marijuana. The plank was adopted with 78% of those in favor. The resolution reads as such:

Plank 165: Compassionate Use Act – We call upon the Texas Legislature to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to prescribed patients.”

This was a surprising move by the GOP. In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed the “Compassionate Use Act”. This Act allows for the instate cultivation, sale, and distribution of medical marijuana in Texas. The program is regulated by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and will begin issuing licenses in September 2017. Currently, the program has not begun, and the only qualifying condition for medical marijuana is intractable epilepsy. The bill also sets an artificial limit on the ratio of THC and CBD that can be prescribed by doctors at 1:20. Finally, and fatally, the bill explicitly contains the language that a doctor must prescribe marijuana.

The adoption of Plank 165 signals two things: One, it signals that the Texas GOP is willing to reform the current marijuana laws. Two, it signals that the Texas GOP recognizes that marijuana has medical value, and tacitly implies that the current federal law, which schedules marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance with no medical value, is wrong. Further, the plank indicates a willingness to expand the current medical program to more qualifying conditions.

Long road ahead
The reforms put forth by the state GOP are first steps for the party that has consistently refrained from reforming the criminal justice system in any meaningful way. These reforms indicate a recognition that Texas has a duty to reform its marijuana laws.

Thankfully, due to the hard work of political, legal, and medical activists, we can count Texas as one of those states that may actually seek reform, and albeit minor steps forward, still making progress.

Written by Hunter White

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