The Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 1325. Now, House lawmakers must decide whether they agree with the Senate’s amendments to the bill. If the House agrees, or the two chambers name negotiators to hash out the differences and sign off on their deal, the bill would head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature or veto.
Rep. Tracy King said he expects Abbott to sign his bill into law.
“I’m excited, I’m excited,” King, D-Batesville, said after the Senate vote. “A lot of folks around the state are looking forward to clarity on the issue — and the ability to grow and participate in industrial hemp.”
Hemp and marijuana both come from the cannabis plant family. Unlike its high-inducing cousin, hemp contains low levels of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. The federal government removed hemp from its list of controlled substances, a move Texas replicated last month.
But Texas has not opted into industrial hemp production, as have 42 other states. And because state law still defines marijuana and hemp as the same thing, products with any amount of THC are technically still illegal in Texas unless they’re used in line with state medical cannabis laws.
King’s bill would set up a federally approved program for Texas farmers to grow hemp as a crop, including procedures for sampling, inspection and testing. It also would expand the kind of hemp products that can be legally purchased in Texas to include any hemp or hemp-derived products containing less than 0.3 percent of THC.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, products would also be legal if the bill becomes law, as long as they are derived from hemp and contain low levels of THC. Marijuana would remain illegal.
During debate Wednesday, senators underlined that fact.
“Can this stuff be smoked?” Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, asked the bill sponsor. “Nowadays people smoke anything.”
No, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, answered. The bill expressly prohibits processing or manufacturing hemp products for smoking, Perry added, and retailers selling CBD products for human consumption would have to be registered with the state.
Other Republicans backed Perry up.
“This is no slippery slope toward marijuana,” said Sen. Pete Flores, R-San Antonio. GOP Sen. Charles Schwertner of Georgetown added, “I want to clarify so the people of Texas know — this is not legalized marijuana.”
Perry said passing this bill would be a boon to farmers, who want to cash in on the drought-resistant crop: “When Texas does something and does it right, we usually become the market leaders.”
If it becomes law, this legislation would mark the first meaningful change to Texas’ hemp and marijuana passed this year. Several other bills to expand the state’s medical cannabis laws and lower penalties for marijuana possession are still being debated.