Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances in Texas

Medical cannabis and decriminalization of possession also win committee approval.


Office of David Simpson

Remember David Simpson, the self-described constitutional conservative who opposes marijuana prohibition on Christian grounds and wants to legalize the plant in Texas? Yesterday his legalization bill, which eliminates marijuana offenses (except for sales to minors) from the Texas criminal code, cleared the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, making it theoretically possible that it will get a floor vote. The committee vote was 5 to 2, with Simpson (R-Longview) joined by one Republican, Todd Hunter (Corpus Christi), and three Democrats—Abel Herrero (Robstown), Joe Moody (El Paso), and Terry Canales (Edinburg)—in supporting the bill. Jeff Leach and Matt Shaheen, both Republicans representing the Dallas suburb of Plano, voted no.

Simpson's bill, H.B. 2165, is the third marijuana reform measure to win committee approval this week. On Monday the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 4 to 2 in favor of H.B. 507, which would make possessing up to an ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine. Currently possession of two ounces or less is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months. H.B. 507, introduced by Moody, presumably has a better shot than H.B. 2165. A 2013 survey by Public Policy Polling found that 60 percent of Texas voters favored decriminalizing possession of up to an ounce, while 41 percent "strongly" supported treating marijuana like alcohol. Another 17 percent "somewhat" supported that policy.

Also this week, bills aimed at legalizing medical use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis cleared committees in the House and Senate. On Monday, by a vote of 8 to 1, the House Public Health Committee approved H.B. 892, which would create a system in which patients whose doctors recommend low-THC cannabis could obtain it from nonprofit producers licensed by the state. The Senate Health & Human Services Committee vote 8 to 1 in favor of a companion bill, S.B. 339, on Tuesday.

"We are pleased to see that the legislature is listening to the more than 20,000 Texans who have advocated for marijuana policy reform this year," says Phillip Martin, deputy director of Progress Texas. "These bills are an important step and we are eager to see them set promptly on the calendars so they can be considered by the full Texas Legislature."

Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, says his organization decided to back these bills after a donor offered a $100,000 matching grant to support reform in "a state where it's going to be really edgy, where if we win there, it's going to be a game-changing moment." Kampia, who has an apartment in Austin, picked Texas.

"I know that if we win there, we win the country," he says. "I know decrim has a chance in Texas already, and I know that while people like to think of Texas as very conservative, the people of Texas are not as conservative as people outside of Texas think, that Texas is going to turn from a Republican state to a Democratic state at some point in the next eight years. So I said we can give that a whirl….We hired a lobbyist, have a full-time staffer in Austin who's coordinating the grassroots, and now we're seeing real momentum in the legislature as a result of the focused effort."

Update: Today the Texas Senate approved the medical marijuana bill by a vote of 26 to 5.