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Texas marijuana restrictions remain strict as proponents work to expand compassionate use laws

FILE- Dalton Edwards works with marijuana plants in a flowering room at Compassionate Cultivation.
Eric Gay
FILE- Dalton Edwards works with marijuana plants in a flowering room at Compassionate Cultivation.

Pro-pot lobbyists say Texas leaders’ attitude toward marijuana has shifted in recent years, but work remains on loosening rules.

It’s 4/20, but those wanting to celebrate in Texas are a long ways away from meaningful changes to marijuana usage laws.

"In Texas, possession of cannabis flower can catch you a case for 180 days in jail, a $2,000 fine and a permanent criminal record," said Jax James, the executive director for Texas NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

There are 21 states that have legalized recreational marijuana and another 34 states that have legalized medical marijuana. Texas allows for the use of medical marijuana under the Compassionate Use program which treats epilepsy, autism, cancer and PTSD.

House Bill 1805 authored by Representative Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth seeks to expand that program. It passed the Texas House and is now before the Texas Senate.

James says she feels confident it will become law. She says HB 218 is also a priority.

"It (HB 218) reduces the penalties for possession of one ounce of cannabis flower or concentrate. It also instructs officers to no longer make arrests for the amount, for possession for a personal amount of cannabis or it's related paraphernalia. And it further facilitates the process for expunging past cannabis charges."

In addition, a patchwork of regulations has started to pop up in municipalities across the state. Some cities have deprioritized enforcement of cannabis. James says those rules are not absolute.

"Something that we have been telling people since these started to pass is that it only applies to the PD for that locality. If there is a state trooper, or sheriff or DPS that is in the city they will still abide by the state law."

James says the attitude towards marijuana policy in Texas has changed dramatically since she first started lobbying for reform in the mid-2000's. She says it used to be hard being taken seriously at the state capitol. That has changed over the past several years, but James says more work still needs to be done to bring Texas on par with other states.

"It is extremely important that we don't lose sight of the fact that while we are not at the end goal, we have continued to improve the lives of Texans along the way and there is still work to be done to make sure there aren't winners and losers in the medical program or for the personal freedoms of how you treat your body."