Late Tuesday, the Senate approved a measure that would allow more individuals with chronic health conditions to participate in the state's compassionate use program, which permits the medical use of low-potency cannabis.
Originally approved in 2015 for the treatment of children with intractable seizure disorder, the program's success shows it should be expanded to more patients, said bill sponsor and Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner.
"As a pharmacist and a physician, I feel strongly that our limited medical program, with appropriate rules and oversight, is the right path for patients in Texas seeking symptom relief," he said at a Monday hearing on the bill. "The evidence is starting to show - I believe there needs to be further work on that - but certainly the testimony is very strong by patients suffering some of these conditions."
The bill, HB 1535, would also create a research program at the Department of State Health Services to continue to look at the evidence for the medical uses of cannabis.
The bill increases the potency of cannabis permitted for use under the program, allowing up to 1 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. As it came over from the House, the bill would've permitted use of cannabis with up to 5% THC, but the Senate reduced that number. Current law restricts the potency to 0.5%. It doesn't limit levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, another compound found in cannabis that is believed to provide medical benefit for some conditions.
Under the current program, terminal cancer patients and those with certain chronic disorders like multiple sclerosis, ALS, autism, and epilepsy can be prescribed low-potency cannabis for symptom relief. The bill approved Tuesday would extend eligibility to all cancer patients, regardless of prognosis, as well as patients diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. With significant changes made in the Senate, the bill will now head back to the House for consideration.
Also Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill that would ban abortion to the extent allowed by the United States Supreme Court. This bill, HB 1280, anticipates a change in the court's interpretation of the right to privacy as it applies to abortion, and would go so far as to ban the procedure if the court gives states that authority. Should the court allow it, the bill would also make it a first-degree felony to perform an abortion.
The bill was sponsored in the Senate by McKinney Senator Angela Paxton, who passed a similar measure in the form of SB 9 back in March. Unchanged by the Senate, the bill will now head to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott.
Midnight Tuesday marked the final deadline for consideration of Senate bills in the House and a number of bills named as priorities by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick failed to beat the clock. This includes SB 10, which would've banned cities and counties from the use of public money to hire lobbyists, SB 12, which would've created a cause of action for individuals banned from social media platforms for protected political speech and SB 29, which would've codified existing UIL rules requiring boys and girls to participate in sports consistent with the gender listed on their birth certificate. Wednesday marks the same deadline for House bills in the Senate, and the body is expected to work late to move as much legislation as possible before midnight.