While it is still illegal to possess or use recreational marijuana in Texas, medical cannabis is legal in very limited circumstances. In 2015, Texas passed the Compassionate Use Act to legalize medical marijuana. Compared to other states in the United States, this Act is considered the most restrictive medical marijuana legislation. Presently, Texas is one of the 14 states with no effective medical marijuana law. It is also in the league of states that still impose jail time for simple possession of marijuana. Texas law permits prosecutors to press criminal charges against persons caught with small amounts of recreational marijuana. It is also illegal to manufacture, sell, or use marijuana paraphernalia in Texas.
The Compassionate Use Act permitted the first legal use of low-THC marijuana-infused products in Texas for medical patients with critical epilepsy. In 2019, however, the Texas Legislature expanded the list of qualifying medical conditions for medical cannabis through HB 3703. This legislation allowed the three dispensaries in the state to expand and establish a research program to study the effects of marijuana as a medical treatment. Currently, eligible medical conditions for medical cannabis in the state include epilepsy, spasticity, autism, multiple sclerosis, and a seizure disorder. Others are terminal cancer, an incurable neurodegenerative disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In 2021, HB 1535 further extended the Compassionate Act Use Program to medical patients with post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) and all sorts of cancer. Initially, the state permitted only medical marijuana with not more than 0.5% THC weight as legal. However, HB 1535, which will become effective on September 1, 2021, raises the maximum level of THC from 0.5% to 1%. It allows registered doctors to prescribe low-THC medical marijuana to medical patients with qualifying medical conditions or meet specific criteria.
While not much has been done on legalizing recreational marijuana in Texas, the state is beginning to consider hemp different from cannabis. In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed HB 1325, creating a federally approved state industrial health program, which will allow people to grow industrial hemp.
To qualify for the Texas medical marijuana program, a patient must be at least 18 years and a permanent state resident. Patients under 18 years require their parents or legal guardians to apply on their behalf to be eligible for this program. However, a qualified physician must first evaluate any prospective patient to determine if they would benefit from low-THC cannabis. Medical patients do not require medical marijuana cards to get medical cannabis in Texas. If a qualified physician determines that a patient can benefit from the medical marijuana program, they will register such a patient on the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas (CURT). Texas sees medical cannabis as a prescription medication. However, only physicians registered with the CURT can write prescriptions for approved patients. Medical patients can visit any specially licensed pharmacy dispensary to get cannabis. They will need to provide their last name, date of birth, photo identification, and the last five digits of the social security number to purchase medical marijuana. A felon who meets the criteria of the medical marijuana program in Texas may use medical cannabis.
Statewide polling data from a survey conducted by the University of Houston in 2019 revealed that 62% of Texans support legalizing recreational marijuana and imposing taxes if legalized. Advocates of recreational marijuana in Texas believe that legalization presents potential opportunities for job growth, new revenue, and savings. The U.S. Census data in 2019 reported that Texas has approximately 20 million residents aged 21 and older. An estimated 1.5 million of these demographics in the state consume marijuana every month. According to a special report, if Texas allows and regulates recreational cannabis, the estimated 1.5 million adults 21 years and older in the state who use cannabis monthly will generate an estimated $2.7 billion annually in marijuana sales.
The report projected new state revenue of more than $555 million every year from cannabis sales. It also estimated an additional $10 million annually in fee revenue, such as business license and application fees, if the State Legislature establishes a modest license fee of $5,000. An estimated 1,000 licensed cultivators and 1,000 licensed stores are projected yearly. However, the state must ensure that the tax rate on regulated marijuana is not so high that cannabis becomes expensive and turns users back to the illegal marijuana market. If legalized, recreational marijuana would generate an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 direct jobs in the Texas cannabis industry. Several induced and indirect jobs will also be created. A wide variety of products and services will emerge to support the new cannabis industry, leading to the establishment of new businesses in other enterprises. As suggested by the report, the economic impact of recreational marijuana, if legalized, will also be felt by the tourism and hospitality industry in the state.
Besides jobs creation and revenue generation, the special report suggested that regulating marijuana for recreational use in Texas will lead to massive criminal justice savings. There would be fewer marijuana-related arrests to make, hence, fewer costs incurred in prosecuting misdemeanor cannabis cases. The Texas Office of Court Administration reported that the state prosecuted 109,487 active misdemeanor marijuana possession cases in 2019. Findings, according to the special report, show that Texas' expenses on low-level marijuana offenders in 2019 cost the following:
According to the report, Texas would save an estimated $311 million annually in criminal justice expenses if they legalize recreational marijuana. This is because arresting and prosecuting residents for misdemeanor cannabis offenses will cease.
The Compassionate Use Act legalized medical CBD oil, an extract of marijuana, for medical use in 2015. This Act is one of the most restrictive marijuana legislations in the United States. However, recreational use of the drug is still prohibited in the state. CBD oil legalization for medical use in Texas does not seem to impact the state's crime rates directly since 2015.
The 2014 Texas arrest data showed there were 1,641 arrests for marijuana manufacture, 67,196 arrests for marijuana possession, and 70,569 DUI arrests. In 2015, the state recorded 1,672, 61,748, and 65,609 arrests on marijuana manufacture, marijuana possession, and DUI, respectively. The arrest data for 2016, compared to 2015, revealed a decline in the number of arrests made on marijuana manufacture (1,536) and DUI (62,327). However, the marijuana possession arrests figure (66,197) went up in 2016. In 2017, Texas recorded 1,972, 60,085, and 69,242 marijuana manufacture arrests, possession, and DIU arrests, respectively. The number of arrests for these offenses went up in 2018 compared to 2017. In 2019, Texas had 1,641 marijuana manufacture arrests, 67,196 marijuana possession arrests, and 71,959 DUI arrests. One thing is clear from these figures. The number of DUI arrests consistently grew each year between 2015 and 2019, and this may partly be attributed to the increased intake of medical CBD oil legalized in 2015. However, marijuana manufacture and possession arrest figures wigwagged during this period.
There was a notable increase in the number of violent crimes in Texas between 2015 and 2017. While the state recorded 113,227 violent crimes in 2015, 2016 had 121,042 reported violent crimes. In 2017, the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program reported 124,238 violent crimes in Texas. For the first time since the legalization of medical CBD oil, the number of violent crimes went down to 117,927 in 2018, although higher than the figure reported in 2015. Again, in 2019, the number of violent crimes in the state increased to 121,474. Going by these figures and trends, one can assume there is a connection between marijuana and the increasing number of violent crimes in Texas. However, this assumption may not be absolute in itself.
Despite the legal status of medical marijuana in Texas, the state does not have a complete medical marijuana program. Unlike many other states in the U.S. that use an identification card to regulate medical marijuana, Texas does not issue medical marijuana cards. Generally, the Compassionate Use Program permits qualified physicians to evaluate patients and prescribe low THC cannabis the same way they prescribe traditional medication to qualified medical patients for medical uses.
Qualified medical patients for low-THC medical cannabis in Texas are patients who are permanent residents suffering from the following:
Texas has no age limit for medical marijuana prescripts, but under-18 patients require their parents or legal guardians to get the prescriptions on their behalf. The only physician qualified to prescribe medical cannabis in the state are those who are registered with the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas (CURT). Section A169.002 of Senate Bill 339 states a physician's qualifications to prescribe medical cannabis in Texas. The Texas Department of Safety (DPS) provided CURT, an online platform that allows registered and qualified physicians to input and manage low-THC prescriptions.
Patients do not pay any state fees to get registered within the CURT system. During a patient's evaluation, the physician will determine if the benefit of medical cannabis outweighs the risk. Once the appraisal is completed, the physician will proceed to register the patient and their prescription on the CURT platform. A patient whose information and prescription have been entered within the CURT system can visit any of the three available dispensaries in the state to fill their prescription. In other words, a medical patient's prescription on CURT is the "document" required to access low-THC legally in Texas. To obtain medical marijuana, patients, their parents, or legal guardians must provide their IDS, date of birth, last name, and the last five digits of their social security numbers. However, dispensaries in the state will not fill patient's prescriptions without first searching their information on the CURT system. Patients registered in the CURT system do not pay a renewal fee but must update their profile annually through their registered physician. Home cultivation of marijuana (even for medical purposes) is illegal in Texas.
In 1919, Texas outlawed marijuana and limited its use to prescription-based use along with all other narcotics. This followed the marijuana ban by El Paso in 1915. In 1931, life imprisonment became the penalty for possessing any amount of marijuana in the state. However, in 1973, Texas passed HB 447, an amendment to the law that recommended life imprisonment, making the possession of 4 ounces or less of cannabis equivalent to a misdemeanor. In 2015, Governor Greg Abbot signed the Compassionate Use Act into law, which allows patients with specific severe ailments to use low-THC CBD oil for medical purposes. In 2017, Texans started an online petition for medical and recreational marijuana legalization. This petition got almost 40,000 petitioners' signatures.
Texas Legislators have introduced several bills aimed at legalizing marijuana in Texas. In November 2020, Rep. James Frank, Harold Dutton Jr, Candy Noble, Gene Wu, and Keith Bell introduced HB 567. Similarly, HJR 11 and HJR 13, bills seeking to amend the Texas Constitution to allow state's voters to decide the legality status of marijuana in the state, are at different stages. HB 307, SB 90, and HB 43 are other bills seeking to decriminalize marijuana possession and use to a notable extent. HB 567 aims to protect the parental rights of any Texan who has the recommendation to use low-THC cannabis or has administered low doses of THC to their ailing child. This bill was sent to Governor Abbot in May 2021 and passed the governor's action stage, having gone unsigned for ten days. It will become effective by September 1, 2021.