Industrial hemp, or cannabis, has been illegal in Texas since 1931. Before that, hemp was grown in Texas and throughout the country, for its amazing versatility. Not only is the hemp a great crop because of its drought resistance but it has many uses as well. It can be made into clothing, textiles, paper, food products, insulation, animal feed and much more.
With all of cannabis’s amazing qualities, why was it banned in the first place? And why has Texas changed its stance in 2019 to allow farms to start growing this cash crop?
History of Cannabis prohibition in Texas
The first written records of cannabis in Texas was described by John Gregory Bourke in 1894. He described the Mexican residents of the Rio Grand adding “mariguan” to cigarritos or mescal for treatment of asthma, expedite delivery, keeps away witches, and as a love-philtre. Bourke compared mariguan to hasheesh, which he called “one of the greatest curses of the East,” because of it causing degeneration of the body and an idiotic appearance and mentions laws against hasheesh “in most Eastern countries.”
Prior to 1931, sales of cannabis had been restricted, but not illegal. In 1915, El Paso became the first American city to outright ban the sale of cannabis when a killed a police officer in the neighboring city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. El Paso Cheif Deputy, Stanley Good, noted over several media statements:
“One under its influence is devoid of fear and as reckless of consequences or results. There are instances where the drug crazed victim has been placed in jail, but in many cases officers have been compelled to slay the fiend in order to save their own lives. ... A large percentage of the crimes committed are by men saturated with the drug... Most Mexicans in this section are addicted to the habit, and it is a growing habit among Americans.”
Further restrictions were placed on the sale and position throughout the entire state of Texas in 1919 and 1923. In 1931, cannabis was made a fully controlled substance with punishments as harsh as life sentences for possession.
Rollback of harsh cannabis laws in Texas
In June of 1973, HB 477 was signed into law in Texas. House Bill 477 significantly reduced penalties for cannabis offenses. Up until this point, Texas had the harshest cannabis laws in the nation with possession being a felony offense with a minimum of a 2-year sentence and up to life in prison. HB 477 reduced the punishment to a class B misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in prison. The bill passed with the Senate (24-7) and the House (84-58) and signed into law by Governor Dolph Briscoe.
It wouldn’t be until the 2000s before more laws would come into effect to further decriminalize and legalize the sale, possession and, and growing of cannabis and hemp.
Cannabis and Hemp regulations in the 2000s
2015 is the first year in which legislation was proposed to legalize cannabis for recreational use. While House Bill 2165 didn’t pass, it would mark a significant change of public and governmental sentiment.
2015 also saw the introduction and passage of Senate Bill 339 (the Texas Compassionate Use Act) that allows for the use of low-THC cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy patients. While Governor Greg Abbott signed the law, he said, “I remain convinced that Texas should not legalize marijuana, nor should Texas open the door for conventional marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes.” However, Governor Abbott also signed a bill in 2019 that further expanded the qualification for the Texas Compassionate Use Act to include conditions including: terminal cancer, autism, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), seizure disorders, and incurable neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's Disease.
Texas House Bill 1325
House Bill 1325 was signed into law by Gregg Abbott in June 2019. HB 1325 legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp which is defined as cannabis with a THC content of .3% or less. The bill also allowed the sale of hemp-derived CBD products without the need for a prescription or doctor’s approval.
1325 did have some unintended consequences however. HB 1325 changed the legal definition of marijuana from cannabis in general to cannabis containing .3% THC or less. Because of this legal definition change, many marijuana possession charges across the state were soon dropped due to a shortage of THC testing equipment. Harris, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, and other county’s prosecutors dismissed hundreds of marijuana cases and put a moratorium on pursuing new charges because of this inability to test for THC.
The Future of Cannabis, Hemp, and Marijuana in Texas
No one can say for certain what Texas has in store for cannabis in the future. However, it’s likely based on an increase in the decriminalization and reduction in punishments due to cannabis, laws will get more relaxed in the coming years. States such as Colorado have already shown the huge tax windfall that cannabis can have. There is no doubt that Texas lawmakers are taking note of this and are considering the huge revenue that cannabis can be for the state.
Whether we see full legalization of marijuana or increased decriminalization is unknown at the moment. However, with the passage of HB 1325, it certainly looks like the winds are changing for cannabis in the state of Texas. In the near future, there will be farmers across the state growing industrial hemp and CBD flower for people throughout the state and country. Because these laws are so new, farming for industrial hemp hasn’t picked up yet, but many are on the horizon for this new booming industry.