History of LWV-TX Action on Drug Laws and Policies

2011: Changes in policies related to substance abuse and drug addiction were not a priority during the 82nd legislative session. Although bills were supported by LWV-TX and other advocates, the proposed legislation never made it out of committee. HB 117 (Jones- McClendon) contained provisions for prevention and treatment of drug addiction as a public health issue. The bill would have allowed certified community health clinics to offer, along with treatment, needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users to prevent blood-borne diseases.

HB 1491 (Naishtat) offered a bill to decriminalize the possession and use of marihuana for medical use when prescribed by a licensed physician.

2013: Changes in policies related to possession and use of illegal drugs continue to be a low priority for the state legislature, as proposed bills never made it out of committee. HB 184 (Dutton) would have changed possession of one ounce or less of marihuana or synthetic cannabinoid to a class C misdemeanor. This would have allowed a judge to defer penalties for the defendant who successfully completed drug awareness and education program approved by the Department of State Health Services. The bill was voted favorably by the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, but was left pending at the close of the legislative session. SB 90 (Ellis) would have allowed for suspension of the defendant not convicted of a previous similar felony or other felonies to be placed under community supervision that included education and drug treatment. HB 117 (McClendon) introduced in 2013 is similar to a bill filed as far back as 2007. The bill did make it out of committee and was sent to Calendars April 13, 2013. The aim of the bill was to prevent and reduce the risk of blood-borne disease. The bill would have allowed for a pilot program for anonymous exchange of needles and syringes and offer education on transmission of blood-borne diseases assist in obtaining substance treatment services, and blood-borne testing services.

2015 There was more support by the 84th Legislature for medical use of marijuana when prescribed by a licensed physician than in previous legislative sessions. SB339 (Eltife) passed and was signed by the governor, allowing for the dispensing of low-THC cannabis by a licensed organization. Though this is a limited victory for allowing the use of marihuana for medical purposes, it will benefit children with intractable epilepsy. Three other bills supported by LWV-TX introduced failed relating to the use of marihuana for medical purposes when prescribed by a licensed physician. One bill HB 892 (Klick/ Zerwas/ Zedler) was voted favorably out of committee and made it to the general calendar, but did not come up for a floor vote. Bills HB 3785 (Marquez), HB 837 (Naishtat) SB 1839 (Menendez) were left pending in committee. Testimony supporting HB 837 and HB 3785 was given in a hearing by the House Public Health Committee by LWV-TX.

Two bill introduced did address lowering the civil penalty for certain amounts of marijuana. Bill HB 507 (Moody) related to reducing civil penalty for possession of certain amounts of marijuana and gained some traction as it was voted favorably out of committee. The bill allowed the court to waive or reduce civil penalty if the person attends a program that provides education for substance abuse. LWV-TX gave testimony at a hearing by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee supporting HB 507. The bill was placed on the general calendar, but did not come up for a vote. A companion bill SB 1417(Ellis) failed to make out of committee for consideration.

2017 The Texas 85th Legislative Session started out with a note of optimism and support favoring bills related to drug laws and policies. Two of the four bills tracked by the League did receive hearings and came close to a vote out of the House. Despite the failure for passage of the bills related to drug laws and policies, the show of support is encouraging for passage of similar bills in future legislative sessions.

HB 81 (Moody/Issac/Dutton), supported by the League, was to reduce civil penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. A hearing by the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee was held, and the bill was voted favorably out of the committee. The LWVTX provided testimony in favor other the bill. HB 81 received strong support and made it to the House Calendar for a vote, but missed the deadline for a vote to be sent to the Senate.

HB 2107 (Lucio/White/Simmons/Sheffield), supported by the League, allowed use of medical cannabis when recommended by a licensed medical provider. The bill was filed February 20, 2017, and sent to the Public Health Committee on March 13, 2017. In late April the bill gained traction when constituents went to the Capitol to meet with legislators, with personal stories urging support of using cannabis for certain medical conditions. The committee held a hearing May 2, 2017, and the LWVTX provided testimony in support. The bill was voted favorably out of committee and coauthored by almost half of the House of Representatives, but failed to be placed on the calendar for a vote.

Companion bills SB 170 and SB 269 languished in their respective committees. The Marijuana Project of Texas, an affiliate of the League, served as a reference and provided information on the status on the bills related to use of medical marijuana and a reduction of penalties for small amounts of marijuana.