Texas Bill Approved in House, Would Expand Medical MJ Eligibility, Replace THC Cap

Texas has some major changes surrounding cannabis on the horizon.

The state’s House of Representatives has given initial approval to a bill allowing doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients as an alternative to opioids for chronic pain treatment. The bill would specifically expand eligibility for low-THC cannabis products, granting legal access to patients with “a condition that causes chronic pain, for which a physician would otherwise prescribe an opioid.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, one in five Americans live with chronic pain. In 2021, more than 106,000 people in the U.S. died from a drug-involved overdose, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids, according to the National Institutes of Health. In Texas specifically, there was an 80% increase in reported synthetic opioid-related deaths in 2021 compared to 2020, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Conversely, even the DEA admits that no deaths from cannabis overdose have ever occurred.

A New Chapter for the Texas Cannabis Industry?

The legislation, House Bill 1805, would also replace the THC cap established under Texas’s existing medical cannabis law. Texas’s medical cannabis law is currently CBD-only, with a cap of 1% THC for cannabis oil. Should the bill be enacted, the THC limit would shift to the volumetric dose of 10 mg. The bill further stipulates that Department of State Health Services (DSHS) regulators could approve additional debilitating medical conditions to qualify new patients for the cannabis program through rulemaking.

The bill from Rep. Stephanie Klick (R) cleared the chamber after a 121-23 vote on Tuesday, and it needs one more round of approval in the House before it can move to the Senate. If enacted, the bill would take effect on Sept. 1, 2023.

Texas NORML has also encouraged supporters in the state to reach out to lawmakers and voice their support of the reform, encouraging lawmakers to approve it. Jax James, executive director of Texas NORML, said in a news release that he is “thrilled” to see the advancement of the proposed legislation.

“Passage of this legislation will provide qualified patients with a state-sanctioned option to access a therapy that has proven to offer significant benefits,” Jones said. “Medical cannabis is an objectively safer alternative to the array of pharmaceutical drugs that it could potentially replace. I urge my fellow Texans to voice their support for this important legislation and to reach out to their Senators to encourage their backing as it moves through the legislative process.”

One of Many Recent Shifts

Of course, this move could be seen as a small step compared to other states that have enacted more wide-reaching medical cannabis legislation, or ended prohibition as a whole, though it still represents significant expansion for Texas. It’s also one of several recent moves that show Texas may be broadening its horizons when it comes to cannabis.

Texas lawmakers recently held a hearing on House Bill 218 that, if passed, would lower the penalties for possession of cannabis and cannabis concentrates. Last month, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee also voted 9-0 to pass a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis.

On Election Day 2022, five Texas cities also voted to decriminalize low-level cannabis possession: Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights. In the weeks since, some cities clashed with lawmakers, who argued that the decriminalization effort violates state law and hinders police officers.

Recently, a Texas Federal Court also ruled that the federal ban on cannabis users owning firearms is unconstitutional. The judge on the case, Kathleen Cardone, said, “It strains credulity to believe that taking part in such a widespread practice can render an individual so dangerous or untrustworthy that they must be stripped of their Second Amendment rights.”

Texas Residents Favor Updated Cannabis Policies

And while Texas still has very restrictive cannabis laws, they don’t align with views the state’s citizens hold.

According to a University of Houston study released earlier this year, out of 1,200 Texan adults 18 and older, four out of five adults said they would support an expanded medical cannabis program. The survey also found that the majority of respondents supported decriminalizing cannabis possession, lessening the penalty of possessing small amounts of cannabis to a citation, and two-thirds of surveyed individuals support legalizing cannabis for adult use.

Another poll, conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Politics Project in 2022, similarly found that a strong majority (72%) back decriminalizing cannabis by making the offense punishable by a citation and fine with no threat of jail time. Only 17% said they would support a complete prohibition on cannabis usage, including medicinal cannabis.

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Minnesota Sheriff Issues Warning About Adult-Use Legalization

As a pair of cannabis legalization bills wind their way through the Minnesota state legislature, advocates are hailing the legislation as a common-sense approach to reforming marijuana policy. But the sheriff of a small rural county is asking lawmakers to consider the impact of legalization on law enforcement and urging caution.

The pieces of legislation, House File 100 and Senate File 73, would allow adults aged 21 and older to purchase up to two ounces of cannabis. Adults would be permitted to possess up to two ounces of cannabis in public and up to five pounds in a private residence. Adults would also be allowed to gift up to two ounces of cannabis to another adult. The bills also permit the home cultivation of marijuana, with adults allowed to grow up to eight cannabis plants, including up to four mature plants.

The bills, which are currently in the process of being considered by numerous legislative committees in both the House and Senate, also establish a framework for the regulation of commercial cannabis production, processing and sales. The legislation tasks a new Office of Cannabis Management with the licensing and regulation of cannabis businesses and contains provisions that permit cities and counties to own and operate government-run dispensaries. In addition to cannabis cultivators, processors and retailers, the bills authorize licenses for home delivery services and temporary permits for on-site consumption of cannabis products at special events.

The legislation also includes social equity provisions including automatic expungement of records of previous marijuana-related offenses. Additionally, social equity applicants for cannabis business licenses would be given bonus points during the application scoring process.

Travis Copenhaver, a partner at the cannabis law firm Vicente LLP, said that the proposed cannabis legalization legislation includes provisions designed to ensure the Minnesota adult-use cannabis market is not dominated by large companies and incorporates the experiences of other states that have legalized cannabis.

“Legalization is always a difficult time with many unanswered questions,” Copenhaver writes in an email to High Times. “Senate File 73/House File 100 would create 12 adult-use license types, each with the goal of preventing monopolization and ensuring opportunities created are for the benefit of Minnesota and its residents.”

“As these bills continue to move forward, Minnesota has the luxury of studying the successes and failures of other states in its region, as well as its own successful medical program,” he added.

County Sheriff Urges Caution in Minnesota

Sheriff Chad Meester of Lincoln County, a rural jurisdiction in the southwestern part of Minnesota with fewer than 6,000 residents, urged lawmakers and state residents to exercise caution in the drive to legalize marijuana. In a social media post cited by the Marshall Independent, Meester implored county residents to consider arguments both for and against legalizing marijuana.

“Basically, what I’m trying to inform the public and my constituents, there needs to be in the legislature some serious, serious consideration of the pros and cons,” Meester said.

“There are some serious concerns,” about legalizing marijuana, Meester said, adding that he is concerned about the potential for an increase in impaired drivers on the state’s roadways. He also acknowledged that deputies would have challenges determining if a driver is impaired by marijuana.

“We would need training, we would need resources to deal with that,” Meester said.

Meester called for “adequate fundraising” for law enforcement agencies to successfully transition to cannabis legalization. The sheriff also said that legislation should include funding to develop a roadside test for impairment, training for drug recognition officers and other public health and safety costs.

“For me, I would like to know how the experts weigh in on it,” wrote Meester.

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Bill To Dismantle Montana Adult-Use Weed Market Goes Down in Flames

You are still free to get high in the “Big Sky.” That is because last week, lawmakers in Montana voted to table a bill that would have effectively dismantled the state’s new adult-use cannabis program.

Republican state Sen. Keith Regier introduced Senate Bill 546 in Montana last month that would have eliminated recreational marijuana dispensaries in Montana.

Almost 60 percent of voters in Montana approved a ballot initiative in November 2020 to legalize weed for adults aged 21 and older, which set up a regulatory framework for a state-sanctioned recreational cannabis market.

Recreational cannabis sales launched last year, ultimately bringing in more than $200 million to the state in 2022.

The Montana Department of Revenue reported in January that sales of adult-use marijuana amounted to $202,947,328 in 2022, while medical cannabis sales came to $93,616,551. (Montana voters legalized medical cannabis in 2004.)

But Regier’s bill never made it out of the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee, which held a hearing on the measure on March 29.

“I just think it’s good not to make voters think that their voice doesn’t count. Then they really turn away from this whole process,” Kate Cholewa, who represents the trade group Montana Cannabis Industry Association, said at last week’s hearing for the bill, as quoted by Montana Free Press.

Per the outlet, Regier addressed that objection during his opening remarks at the hearing, saying that there “have been several examples of the will of the voters being reversed.” (“Two of the three examples he cited involved voter initiatives being overturned by courts, not lawmakers,” Montana Free Press noted.)

Regier’s bill would have also raised “the state tax on medical marijuana from 4% to 20% and puts significant limits on medical marijuana potency and allowable amounts for possession,” Montana Free Press reported last month.

The issue of marijuana potency was raised at last week’s committee hearing.

“There is no need to have 90% potent marijuana products unless you’re trying to addict kids,” 

Said Dr. Kevin Sabet, co-founder and president of the national anti-marijuana organization Safe Approaches to Marijuana, as quoted by Montana Free Press. “That’s simply the only reason to do it. Or addict (sic) people in the workplace and cause crashes on the road.”

But on Thursday, members of Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee decided they had heard enough, and voted 6-4 to table the bill.

According to Montana Free Press, “three Republican committee members—Senate President Jason Ellsworth, Committee Chair Jason Small and Sen. Walt Sales—joined with all three Democratic members to oppose the bill,” before the “committee subsequently tabled the bill unanimously.”

It might not be the Montana legislature’s last word on cannabis reform.

Last month, that same committee in the state Senate “heard testimony on two marijuana-related bills,” according to local news station KTVH, including one that “would prohibit marijuana businesses in Montana from promoting their business or brand in print, over TV and radio or using a billboard.”

The other proposal “would revise the required warning labels that marijuana businesses must put on their products, to say that marijuana use during pregnancy could result in ‘congenital anomalies, and inherited cancers developed by a child later in life,’” KTVH reported.

Tax revenue from marijuana sales in Montana are used to support a number of programs in the state, including the HEART Fund, which provides money for substance abuse treatment in Montana.

“Funding a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for communities, the HEART Fund will offer new support to Montanans who want to get clean, sober, and healthy,” the state’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, said in 2021.

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House Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan CBD Regulation Bills

A bipartisan duo of US House legislators has introduced a pair of CBD regulation bill proposals to regulate the hemp-derived cannabinoid, arguing that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has failed to regulate the popular cannabinoid despite the legalization of hemp with the 2018 Farm Bill. The two bills, which were introduced in the House of Representatives on March 17, are sponsored by Ohio Democratic Rep. Annie Craig and Rep. Morgan Griffith, a Republican from Virginia.

“The Food and Drug Administration has dragged its feet in properly regulating CBD and hemp-derived products on the market, creating confusion about its legal uses,” Griffith said in a statement from the congressman’s office. “Americans need better guidance and that’s why I’ve introduced these two pieces of legislation, which will create a pathway for regulation in both the food and dietary supplement spaces.”

The first measure, the Hemp and Hemp-Derived CBD Consumer Protection and Market Stabilization Act of 2023, would make hemp, cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp and other hemp-derived products lawful for use as a dietary supplement unless otherwise directed by the FDA. The second bill, the CBD Product Safety and Standardization Act, directs the FDA to establish rules to regulate CBD as the agency would for other food ingredients, including setting requirements for the quality and labeling of CBD products.

“In Minnesota, we’ve seen firsthand that our local governments and small businesses need more guidance when it comes to CBD and hemp-derived products,” Craig said. “That’s why I’ve partnered with Rep. Griffith on these bipartisan bills to better regulate CBD products, keep consumers safe and ensure our hemp farmers and businesses have the support they need.”

Interest in CBD exploded in the US after Congress legalized hemp with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. The cannabinoid is available in a range of consumer products, including vapes, tinctures and topicals, with consumers turning to CBD goods for a variety of health conditions, including pain, anxiety and sleep disorders. The FDA has oversight over CBD because it’s the active ingredient in Epidiolex, an oral formulation derived from cannabis that was approved by the agency to treat specific forms of childhood epilepsy in June 2018.

FDA Sought CBD Guidance From Congress In January

The introduction of the two CBD regulation bills comes after the FDA announced earlier this year that there are too many uncertainties about the safety of CBD for the agency to regulate the cannabinoid under its current structure. The FDA also called on Congress to provide further guidance on CBD, citing safety concerns about CBD, including the potential of the cannabis compound to cause liver damage and potential negative effects on the male reproductive system and on children and pregnant women.

“We haven’t found adequate evidence to determine how much CBD can be consumed, and for how long, before causing harm,” FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement from the agency on January 26, adding that “after careful review, the FDA has concluded that a new regulatory pathway for CBD is needed that balances individuals’ desire for access to CBD products with the regulatory oversight needed to manage risks.”

The FDA suggested several aspects of regulation for consideration by Congress, including packaging and labeling requirements, limits on CBD levels and testing for potency and safety. The agency also cited possible negative effects on pets and livestock, again looking to lawmakers for further guidance on the issue.

“CBD also poses risks to animals, and people could be unknowingly exposed to CBD through meat, milk and eggs from animals fed CBD,” Woodcock wrote. “Because it’s not apparent how CBD products could meet the safety standard for substances in animal food, we also don’t intend to pursue rulemaking allowing the use of CBD in animal food. A new regulatory pathway could provide access and oversight for certain CBD-containing products for animals.”

The new legislation from Griffith and Craig is supported by dozens of hemp and cannabis activists, businesses and nonprofit organizations, including the National Cannabis Industry Association, Americans for Safe Access, the Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the US Hemp Roundtable, said that the two bills are “critical legislation that’s integral for hemp farmers, CBD producers and consumers.”

“The FDA has made it clear that legislative action by Congress is needed to solve its CBD regulatory problem and these two bipartisan bills re-introduced by Reps. Griffith and Craig serve as the solution,” Miller said in a statement from the hemp industry trade group. “The FDA’s inaction over the past four years has had a devastating impact on US hemp growers, and has left thousands of unregulated products on the marketplace, raising health and safety concerns for consumers.”

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Washington State Lawmakers Approve Interstate Cannabis Commerce Bill

A Washington State legislative committee last week approved a bill that would permit interstate cannabis commerce between companies in states that have legalized marijuana. The measure, House Bill 1159, was advanced by the House Regulated Substances and Gaming Committee with a 6-5 vote on February 14. Passage of the bill comes one month after a legislative committee voted to approve companion legislation in the Washington State senate.

The bill would permit state officials to reach agreements governing interstate cannabis commerce with other states that have legalized marijuana. To be enacted, the bill requires other states to adopt similar policies and for the federal government to approve a plan authorizing cannabis trade across state lines. Federal authorization could come in the form of legislation that allows interstate cannabis commerce or through a legal opinion from the US Department of Justice “allowing or tolerating” cannabis companies to do business with regulated entities in other states, according to the text of the measure. Democratic state Rep. Sharon Wylie, the lead sponsor of the legislation in the Washington House of Representatives, said that the bill continues the work in other states to lay the groundwork for such a policy change.

“This bill attempts to mirror the efforts that are taking place in other recreational legal cannabis states by preparing for interlocal agreements and interstate commerce should the federal government change the rules,” Wylie said before the vote by the House Regulated Substances and Gaming Committee on February 14.

Other States Already On Board

California and Oregon have already approved proposals to allow cannabis companies to engage in interstate trade, and a bill to permit such trade was introduced in the New Jersey state senate last summer. But even with multiple jurisdictions on board, transfers of marijuana products across state lines will not begin until the federal government approves such a plan.

A companion bill in the Washington state senate was approved by the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee with a voice vote last month. At a hearing for the bill, Sen. Karen Keiser, the chair of the committee, said that it was important to take “early action” on the legislation, especially given that it “seems to have pretty substantial support,” according to a report from Marijuana Moment. The companion bill is now being considered by the Senate Rules Committee.

Allowing cannabis interstate commerce would open new markets to independent operators in the industry. Jason C. Adelstone, an associate attorney with the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP, said that a plan would also benefit companies that are already doing business in more than one regulated market.

“Currently, to operate in multiple states, a business must establish operations in each state in which they desire to be licensed,” Adelstone said. “If the interstate transport of marijuana is federally legalized, then an operator could establish a large cultivation facility in, say, Arizona or Southern California that could supply demand throughout the country. This would increase the customer base of a state-legal marijuana business without substantially increasing the cost of satisfying that demand.”

Adelstone notes that the legislation would also benefit cannabis operators in other ways. The bill could help by stabilizing prices on cannabis, writing that “any oversupply of the local market could be sold to out-of-state retailers, which would increase revenue and decrease current costs variable associated with oversupply.”

“Another potential benefit to the federal government permitting interstate transport of marijuana is environmental. Indoor cultivation facilities, like those needed in the northern, colder states, have a huge environmental footprint,” he added. “By allowing interest commerce, these indoor facilities could theoretically be replaced by outdoor cultivation facilities located in places like Arizona and Southern California, which could help with the Biden administration’s goal of reducing carbon emissions.”

Federal Approval Required

While the movement to permit interstate cannabis commerce is making progress at the state level, enacting such a plan requires the approval of Congress or the Justice Department. Adelstone says, however, that such a proposal is unlikely to receive federal approval in the near future, noting that the political climate in Washington, DC would likely prevent a cannabis interstate commerce bill from being passed and signed into law during President Joseph Biden’s current term in office.

“The Democrats are focused on including social equity provisions into any federal marijuana bill, which, depending on how extensive such provisions are, would likely keep the necessary nine Republicans from supporting any such bill in the Senate,” Adelstone wrote. “Additionally, with a presidential election on the horizon, the Republicans are not likely to support giving President Biden a win on an issue that is very popular with voters. SAFE banking and addressing 280E are the primary focus of the industry right now, so I doubt many operators would spend much political capital on pushing an interstate commerce bill.”

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New York Gov. Hochul Signs Bill To Expand Industrial Hemp

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday signed into law a bill that seeks to expand the states industrial hemp industry. 

The legislation, which was sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Michelle Hinchey, aims to “promote greater use of New York-grown industrial hemp by businesses in New York State,” and “instructs the Commissioner of Agriculture & Markets, in collaboration with the Urban Development Corporation, the [New York State] Hemp Workgroup, and industry representatives, to develop a plan to expand market opportunities for industrial hemp that would increase its use in manufacturing and construction materials, including packaging, textiles, and hempcrete.”

“Hemp is the material of the future, and positioning New York as a leading producer of the world’s industrial hemp supply is a winning strategy for fighting the Climate Crisis, bringing large-scale economic development to New York’s rural communities, and unlocking new revenue sources to put our farmers in a better financial position,” Hinchey said in a statement on Tuesday. “I’m proud that my hemp bill has been signed into law, directing our state to seek strategic collaborations to help us usher in a new era of manufacturing power, product creation, and rural economic development around an industry that is nearly untapped around the world.”

Industrial hemp was legalized on the federal level in 2018, when Congress passed a Farm Bill that opened the door for states to allow its cultivation.

State leaders have since eagerly approved their own laws and regulations for hemp production, capitalizing on a burgeoning new industry.

In New York, hemp farmers have been able to get in on the ground floor of another cash crop after Hochul signed a bill in February allowing them to apply for conditional licenses to grow marijuana, which the state legalized for recreational use and sales in 2021. 

“I am proud to sign this bill, which positions New York’s farmers to be the first to grow cannabis and jumpstart the safe, equitable and inclusive new industry we are building,” Hochul said at the time. “New York State will continue to lead the way in delivering on our commitment to bring economic opportunity and growth to every New Yorker in every corner of our great state.”   

Hinchey celebrated the signing of that bill, as well.

“Today is an exciting day in New York as our bill to give New York farmers the ability to start the cannabis market is signed into law. The [new marijuana law] set the foundation for our state to build a truly circular cannabis economy that puts New York farmers and small business dispensaries at the center of growth and production, and with the signing of this bill, farmers can now put seeds in the ground to ensure we meet the demand of this burgeoning industry. I thank Governor Hochul for her quick action on this bill so that we can get to work building the most forward-thinking and socially-equitable cannabis industry in the country,” Hinchey said in a statement at the time.

New York Adult-Use Cannabis Market

Since she took over for former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August of 2021, Hochul has been busy getting the state’s new adult-use cannabis industry up and running. 

Hochul, who won her first election as the incumbent governor in last month’s midterms, said in October that she expects the first regulated pot retailers to open their doors to customers by the end of the year. 

 “We expect the first 20 dispensaries to be open by the end of this year,” the Democratic governor said at the time. “And then every month or so, another 20. So, we’re not going to just jam it out there. It’s going to work and be successful.”

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