What exactly can they sell?
Though the state has now doled out a few licenses to operate dispensaries, no one in Texas is actually legally getting high. The Compassionate Use Act only permits for the sale of “low-THC cannabis” that must contain 0.5% THC or less, and no less than 10% cannabidiol, or CBD. For comparison, federal law allows hemp products, which are legally available for purchase online, to contain 0.3% THC.
Dispensaries may only sell medical cannabis in the form of cannabidiol oil, and under no circumstances is smoking marijuana permitted in the state of Texas. Only licensed dispensaries may grow it, and they may only do so with the intention of processing it into the specified low-THC oil.
"Whether it's 0.5 or 0.7 or 1 or 2.5, you could argue that that is an arbitrary number because it affects people differently,” says Denton. “You have to have a standard somewhere. Where Texas has set that standard is where Texas has set that standard. There's plenty of research and science that suggests that a higher concentration of THC is more efficacious for people with a variety of conditions, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it needs to be 5% or whatever. I think the concern is that the state didn't want to have any amount of THC in it that could lead a person to have a psychological reaction."
Is recreational marijuana legal in Texas?
No, not under the Compassionate Use Act or any other law.
What about the marijuana legalization effort in Texas?
Possessing up to 4 ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail, but efforts to scale back punishment have gained support in recent years. In 2017, House Bill 81, which would have decriminalized possession of 1 ounce or less, made it into the Texas House voting schedule before the conservative Texas Freedom Caucus was able to prevent an actual vote from taking place. The bill received 41 co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle and was authored by Democrat Joe Moody. Though the bill stalled, there have been signs the state is relaxing its stance on marijuana use. On December 1, 2017, the city of Dallas began issuing citations rather than making arrests for possession of fewer than 4 ounces of marijuana.
Some of the most encouraging sign for legislative progress may have been the support behind House Bill 2107. Though it barely missed making it into the voting schedule last May, the bill was co-authored by a whopping 78 members of the House. If passed, HB 2017 would have expanded the Compassionate Use Act to allow Texans suffering from terminal cancer and post-traumatic stress access to medical marijuana. “We’ve known for quite some time that a majority of Texans support legal access to medical cannabis,” Heather Fazio, Texas political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in May 2017 about HB 2107. “We now know that most House members support it, too.”
HB 2107 was written by Republican Jason Isaac and Democrat Eddie Lucio III. “We’re going to keep fighting as much as we can,” Lucio III said in a video announcing that HB 2107 would not make it onto the floor for a vote.
Lucio returned to the issue in the 2019 legislative session with another bill, HB 1365. Among the 63 bills addressing marijuana that were introduced in the session, it is the likeliest to pass. The new bill would authorize "the possession, use, cultivation, processing, distribution, transportation, and delivery of medical cannabis for medical use," and expand the Compassionate Use Act. It has so far passed a committee vote in the Texas House and has bipartisan support of any marijuana legislation currently before the House.
Though the state failed to pass new marijuana legislation in 2017, support for more progressive marijuana policy is clearly building, and advocates are optimistic about what could be possible in the current legislative session in 2019.
"Texas is a very conservative state. It has a conservative governor. It has a conservative legislature. So [new legislation] isn’t inevitable,” says Denton. Still, he says he remains hopeful given how the Compassionate Use Act has provided epilepsy patients with access to medical marijuana.
“If our leaders take the time to really get informed and get smart," he says, "I think that they will see the science and the data behind how this medicine can have a positive impact on people with other conditions.”