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Medical marijuana patient defense bill hearing scheduled

Medical marijuana edibles from a Colorado dispensary.
Medical marijuana edibles from a Colorado dispensary.

A bill which would give Texas patients a medical defense in court for marijuana possession has been scheduled for a hearing.

HB 2200, filed by State Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), would not legalize marijuana, however it would change court procedure and allow sick Texans a chance to not be labeled a criminal for consuming a plant in a medical capacity which is already widely accepted in half the country.

Dubbed an “affirmative defense,” currently defendants are not allowed to tell jurors that they consume marijuana for medicinal purposes, even if they are a patient in another state. This allows jurors to be better informed of the circumstances surrounding a marijuana possession case, and ultimately, jurors may decide that even if a defendant is breaking the law, they can still be found not guilty.

Activists around the state have worked for decades to inform jurors of their rights, as some regularly meet at courthouses on Monday mornings to hand out information to potential jurors, letting them know about jury nullification.

Jury nullification in the United States has its origins in colonial British America. Similar to British law, in the United States jury nullification occurs when a jury in a criminal case reaches a verdict contrary to the weight of evidence, sometimes because of a disagreement with the relevant law.

Similar bills have been filed each Texas legislative session since 2001, and the first time one received a hearing was in 2013.

The Texas House of Representatives has been unusually slow during the 2017 legislative session, with committees slow to form and schedule bills for hearings. With the session drawing to a close on May 29, patients who could benefit from medical cannabis in Texas have a five week window to see any traction.

HB 2107 and SB 269, both identical, one for the House, another for the Senate, would expand the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP) to create a whole plant medical cannabis program for numerous patients. To date, neither of these bills have been scheduled for a hearing.

TCUP was passed in 2015, however it only allows CBD oil for pediatric epilepsy patients who have already ruled out brain surgery. That program is scheduled to go into effect by September 1 of this year.

Another bill which may give patients some alleviation is HB 81, which would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a $250 civil penalty, however it would not cover concentrates, which would remain a felony. This law allows up to three tickets before giving prosecutors the option of imposing criminal penalties.

HB 81 has already passed out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and is currently waiting in the Calendar Committee to be scheduled for a hearing by the full House.

HB 2200 is scheduled for a hearing in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday, May 24. The committee will begin hearing bills at 2 pm, however it is not known when the bill will be heard that day at the capitol building in Austin. The committee has 23 bills to consider that day, and organizers are urging those wishing to support the bill to either keep their testimony brief and not repeat what others have already stated, or to only sign up in support.

In all, there are 20 cannabis related bills pending in the state legislature.

Any bills which make it out of committee must be scheduled for a hearing by the House, approved by the House, heard by the Senate, approved by the Senate, reconciled between the two chambers, and then must pass Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a 30 year old journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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