DRUG LAWS AND POLICIES

DRUG LAWS AND POLICIES

Support treatment programs for drug abuse and addiction as an alternative to incarceration. Support elimination of penalties for cannabis when recommended by a physician or for small amounts.
Position In Brief: 

The League of Women Voters of Texas considers substance abuse and drug addiction public health issues. 

The League supports:

  • Funding of preventive measures by all levels of government, as well as the private sector.
  • Education for drug abuse prevention, including: 
    • Educational programs aimed at keeping children from using drugs.
    • Public education programs directed to adults.
  • Sterile needle and syringe programs to prevent blood-borne diseases.
  • No criminal penalties for cannabis possession when recommended by a physician.
  • Laws that include drug education and drug treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration.
  • Laws that call for no penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Position History: 
  • Explanation: Drug Laws and Policies

    This study was adopted at Convention 2004 as a not-recommended item. The focus was to research the history of drug laws in Texas, and to evaluate current laws and policies governing the sale and use of illegal drugs, including their effects on young people, communities of color, and medical care and public health. Additionally, the League evaluated the social and economic costs of relying on prohibition, law enforcement, and imprisonment to solve problems related to drugs, and considered possible alternatives to current policies. Consensus was completed and adopted by the board January 2006.

    Our position was reworded to include no criminal penalties for drugs when prescribed by a physician or possession of small amounts of cannabis.  The amendments were passed by LWVTX Convention 2020.

History: 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 the LWVTX 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) is similar to a bill filed as far back as 2007. The bill did make it out of committee and was sent to Calendars Committee 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 marihuana when prescribed by a licensed physician than in previous legislative sessions. SB 339 (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 the LWVTX 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), and SB 1839 (Menendez) were left pending in committee. Testimony supporting HB 837 and HB 3785 was given in a House Public Health Committee hearing by the LWVTX.

Two bill introduced did address lowering the civil penalty for certain amounts of marihuana. Bill HB 507 (Moody) related to reducing civil penalty for possession of certain amounts of marihuana 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. The LWVTX 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. The bill was voted favorably out of the committee. The LWVTX provided testimony in favor other the bill. HB 81 received strong support, 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. In late April the bill gained traction when constituents went to the Capitol to meet with legislators, taking personal stories urging support of using cannabis for certain medical conditions. The committee held a hearing, 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.

2019.  There was increased support among state legislators for access and use of marihuana for medical use and to reduce the penalties for possession of small amounts of marihuana.

HB 3703 (Klick et al) passed, was signed by the governor and will become law. The bill allows for medical use of low THC cannabis, 0.5 percent, when prescribed by any qualified physician. Use is limited to patients with a diagnosis of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, incurable neurodegenerative disease, terminal cancer and autism. Despite the disappointment in limiting the medical use of cannabis, this bill may benefit individuals by having access to an alternative treatment.

Other bills relating to medical use of marihuana, supported by LWVTX, were HB 209 (Reynolds), and SB 90 (Menendez). Neither got out of committee.

HB 63 (Moody), to reduce penalties for possession of a small amount marihuana, failed. The bill passed the House, but although there was support by most members of the Senate for passage, the bill was blocked by the leadership to bring the bill forward for a vote. Passage of this bill would have reduced the penalty for possession of one ounce of marihuana to a class C misdemeanor, same as a traffic ticket.

Other bills reducing penalties, supported by LWVTX, were HB 335 (Dutton), HB 371 (Allen) HB 753 (Wu), HB 1206 (Cole), and HB 2518 (Toth). All these bills received hearings in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, but only HB 335 was voted favorably out of committee.  It missed the deadline for a vote by the House.

 

Issues: 
League to which this content belongs: 
Texas