Cannabis in Texas has always been on this spectrum that runs between intolerance and illegal, but the winds of change may be blowing.
The Lone Star State may become the lone dispensary state, thanks to a sudden reversal of policy that has blocked licenses for new cannabis facilities. Despite years of fighting, advocates for cannabis in Texas are still facing an uphill battle.
While the suspension of new licenses is distressing, here’s the real kicker: There’s been no official word explaining the sudden change to the Compassionate Use Program, which allows medical cannabis sales in Texas. The only thing the website for the Texas Department of Public Safety says is that it’s “not accepting applications at this time.”
Originally, the program promised to provide thirty one days (from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1) for companies to apply for dispensary licenses. Instead, it was shuttered after little more than a week.
So, what gives?
Cannabis in Texas: How We Got Here
Texas is a blood-red state that may turn light blue in the next twenty years, but for now, it remains firmly in Republican control. It has given the country several nationally-known politicians. These include former President George W. Bush, recently-resigned Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and staunch Trump ally Sen. Rafael Edward (Ted) Cruz.
Red states have progressed cannabis rights at a slower pace than their more liberal counterparts, and Texas is no exception. El Paso was the first city in the union to criminalize cannabis possession, in 1915. And until 1973, Texas had the harshest penalties for cannabis possession in the United States. In other words, cannabis in Texas has always been a tough sell.
Attitudes have been changing, however. The majority of registered voters in the state believe cannabis in Texas should be legal in some form, although it’s apparently not an issue they vote on. It wasn’t until 2015 that the state legalized medical cannabis, and even then, the law was extremely restrictive.
But recently that same law, the Compassionate Use Act, has been updated. After the Republican-controlled senate basically neutered a much more expansive bill that passed the house, the Compassionate Use Act was updated. It will now cover more conditions and, supposedly, allow more dispensaries to open their doors.
It was a big move for cannabis in Texas with the purpose of bringing the state’s legislation in closer alignment with voters’ wishes. But even the best efforts at Democracy can be stymied by unsympathetic administrations.
A History of Stopping Progress for Cannabis
The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, is certainly no fan of cannabis — no matter what his voters want.
When the state legalized hemp, prosecutors across Texas began dropping cannabis charges by the hundreds. This was because of their offices’ inability to legally discern hemp from cannabis. Seeing that cannabis consumers may not go to jail, Gov. Abbott roared into action. He sent letters to district and county attorneys across the state, urging them to keep cannabis cases on their dockets — their legal arguments be damned.
The legal problem arose because Texans wanted to use CBD products, so the government legalized hemp products that contained less than 0.3 percent THC. But crime labs across the state had no way to test plant material that suspects were caught with, so district attorney couldn’t prove suspects were in possession of cannabis and not hemp.
This led many local officials to tell police to “cite and release” people caught with less than four ounces of cannabis. Prosecutors didn’t want to waste their time and resources on low-level cannabis offenses that would require expensive lab tests from far away to prove guilt. It was not a hit with state leadership, but they couldn’t do much about it.
Beyond the governor, Texas Republicans have a good history of misleading voters about cannabis. Donna Campbell — a right-wing state senator — straight-up lied to voters about the possibility of cannabis treating combat veterans’ PTSD. She concocted a study and its conclusion, and never apologized.
What’s to Come for Cannabis in Texas
Looking at the history of cannabis in Texas, the latest developments are perfectly predictable. At nearly every turn in the state’s history, high-level politicians have sought to stop people from consuming cannabis. The Republican champion of expanding the Compassionate Use Act, however, believes the license stoppage is merely a short hiccup that will be momentarily corrected.
“This is likely just a temporary delay until we know which of the incurable neurodegenerative conditions are appropriate to be included on the list,” State Rep. Stephanie Klick told the Texas Tribune.
Klick used an interesting turn of phrase. Apparently, someone will decide which incurable diseases are appropriate for cannabis use. Who is this person — is it the governor, or whoever put a halt to the process to begin with? Why haven’t they identified themselves? Why doesn’t Texas simply follow what was is in the bill? Isn’t that the point of rule by law?
All good questions, all unlikely to receive an answer until a harsher rule is decreed.
If history is any guide, state officials will again use a flimsy excuse to curb cannabis in Texas. Sounds like it’s high time somebody messes with Texas.