AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After giving the initial nod to allow farmers to grow hemp and legalizing hemp products in Texas, the state House officially passed the bill out of the lower chamber.
The legislation now heads to the Senate. If it passed the upper chamber, it heads to the Governor’s desk for a signature. It was approved in the House Tuesday in a voice vote and again Wednesday on its third reading with a 144-0 vote.
House Bill 1325, authored by Rep. Tracy King, D- Batesville, allows farmers to grow hemp as industrial crops under a regulated state program.
The bill will also legalize hemp-derived products like CBD oil. The debate over whether hemp and marijuana are the same thing have kept such bills from passing previously. Unlike marijuana, hemp and its by-products contain less than .3 percent of THC, which produces the “high” in marijuana.
“It does have some levels of THC and we want to make sure that it absolutely has nothing hallucinogenic, it should never be confused with marijuana,” said State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, who serves as chair of the House Agriculture and Livestock committee. Springer co-authored House Bill 1325.
State Sen. Charles Perry, R- Lubbock, authored the Senate’s companion bill. He said he expected an “uneventful and smooth sailing” on the Senate side.
“We are going to have that conversation as soon as it hits,” Perry said. “We expect it to come over and be referred to a committee by Friday which is our hopes, and we will encourage the Lieutenant Governor to make that referral.”
Perry, who chairs the Senate water and rural affairs committee and serves on the agriculture committee, said “legitimate conversations” will start Monday.
“It’s big for (agriculture), it’s big for Texas, it’s big for the consumer,” he mentioned.
“Much of what’s on the market today is unregulated. You don’t know where it’s coming from,” he said. “Having Texas have it, Texas grown, Texas labeled and Texas regulated is the only way to protect consumers as well as engage our agriculture community in an up and coming market.”
Perry said he has talked to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick about loosening hemp restrictions in Texas.
“He is integral and some of those consumer protections, so we tried to accommodate what he wanted to see in the bill before it comes back over,” Perry explained.
“HB 1325 looks a lot like what the Senate Bill over here looks like,” Perry said. “We did that intentionally so that there is not a lot of discussion left. A lot of the hearings, a lot of the public testimony, a lot of the support has been expressed over there. So coming over here we have to move it through pretty quick.”
Texas Hemp Industries Association executive director Coleman Hemphill called the House passage “huge.”
“The association is very focused on providing good agricultural practices and directing good testing, traceability of products, so that consumers know where these products are coming from, that law enforcement understands the difference between these products and other legal products and we can really begin to commercialize these things,” Hemphill said.
Agriculture industry leaders also shared their support.
“We are pleased that the House concurs with our position,” Texas Farm Bureau communications director Gene Hall said in a statement. “Hemp is legally grown in more than 40 states and the products are already sold here. Hemp will be another crop option, enabling farmers to respond to market forces.”
A provision in the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp as a controlled substance, paving the way for states to regulate it.
“Now the feds have said ‘It’s up to the states to get this done,’ and the ball has been moved into our court,” Perry said.
The Texas House is also eyeing changes to cannabis regulation. Lawmakers will debate a different cannabis-related bill — one that would decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, on Thursday.
Russell Falcon contributed to this report.