State rep. Elliot Naishtat, a democrat from Austin, is sponsoring the bill which would allow for physicians to recommend medical cannabis (called "marihuana" in the bill) for patients with qualifying conditions. Possession of cannabis would be legal so long as a doctor had signed off on it. The bill would also protect physicians from having their licenses stripped for making the recommendation. Otherwise, that's really all there is to the page-and-a-half long bill. No mention of plant limits, possession limits, or anything like that.
"This bill does not legalize marijuana or anything," Naishtat said to San Antonio TV station KENS. "It creates an affirmative defense so if you have a bona fide medical condition and a doctor has suggested that you try marijuana for medicinal purposes, if you get arrested you can go before a judge and you can say 'look at me your honor, I'm not a criminal. I have multiple sclerosis, I'm in a wheelchair' or 'I have AIDS,' and the judge could say 'go home.'"
The bill makes sense any way you slice it, but especially so considering Houston is known as one of the best cities in America to receive cancer treatment, namely through the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The Texas Medical Association has already come out (somewhat) in favor of the bill, telling TV station KVUE in Austin that while marijuana may still be illegal in Texas and federally, "TMA policy supports the physician's right to discuss with his or her patients any and all possible treatment options related to the patient's health and clinical care (including the use of marijuana) without the threat to physician or patient of regulatory, disciplinary, or criminal sanctions. TMA also calls for further well-controlled scientific studies of the use of marijuana with seriously-ill patients who may benefit from such alternative treatment."
But the unfortunate reality is that Naishtat's bill probably doesn't have much of a chance to succeed in the conservative political climate of Texas. Some have speculated that's why the bill really hasn't been rewritten since it's original form several years ago, despite other states passing much more comprehensive plans. Even the Texas NORML chapter says so, though they are supporting it anyway. As the folks over at the (awesome) Austin/University of Texas-related blog, The Horn, reported earlier this week, Texas NORML director Josh Schimberg was critical of the bill:
"In my personal opinion, HB 594 does not go far enough," Schimberg told reporter Maria Roque. "It does not prevent medical marijuana patients from being arrested, as it should. It does not provide for a legal means of patients to get their medical marijuana... That being said, Texas NORML is supporting the bill because it would allow doctors to talk with their patients about medical marijuana, something that is not currently allowed, and would provide them with an affirmative defense in court."
Naishtat's bill is not the only marijuana legislation floating around the state capitol in Austin. Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston is pushing a bill that would make possession of an ounce or less a Class C misdemeanor with the maximum fine set at $500 and no mandatory jail time. Currently, possession of an ounce is a Class B misdemeanor, and would get you 180 days in jail and nearly two grand in fines. This is the second time Dutton has tried to pass such legislation, though it never made it out of committee when first presented in 2011.