Making Democracy Work

Drug Laws and Policies

Updates from Elaine Talarski (San Antonio) Drug Laws and Policies Issue Chair

Testimony 2017

Coalitions and Resources


  • Marijuana Policy Project MPP and MPP Foundation envision a nation where marijuana is legally regulated similarly to alcohol, marijuana education is honest and realistic, and treatment for problem marijuana users is non-coercive and geared toward reducing harm.

Acronyms: What does that mean?

Position LW- TX


The League of Women Voters of Texas supports education for drug abuse prevention. We support drug education and drug treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration.

LWV considers substance abuse and drug addiction public health issues. We support the following preventive measures which should be funded by all levels of government plus the private sector:

  • educational programs aimed at keeping children from using drugs

  • public education programs directed to adults

  • sterile needle and syringe programs to prevent blood-borne diseases.

Laws regarding drug abuse and drug addiction should include drug treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration, and would include no criminal penalties for cannabis (marihuana) possession when recommended by a physician.

Position LWV-US

Issue Studies and Explanation

This study was adopted at Convention 2004 as a non-recommended item. The focus was to research the history of drug laws in Texas, and to evaluate current laws and policies governing the sale and use of illegal drugs, including their effects on young people, communities of color, and medical care and public health. Additionally, the League evaluated the social and economic costs of relying on prohibition, law enforcement, and imprisonment to solve problems related to drugs, and considered possible alternatives to current policies. Consensus was completed and adopted by the Board in January, 2006.

Study Committee: Elaine Talarski (San Antonio), Chair; Avo Butler (Sherman/ Grayson Co.); Sandy Elkins (Plano/Collin Co.); Betty Groepper (Tyler); Pauline Jones (El Paso); Suzanne Wills (Dallas)

Additional Offsite Links:

History of LWV-TX Action

2011: Changes in policies related to substance abuse and drug addiction were not a priority during the 82nd legislative session. Although bills were supported by LWV-TX and other advocates, the proposed legislation never made it out of committee. HB 117 (Jones- McClendon) contained provisions for prevention and treatment of drug addiction as a public health issue. The bill would have allowed certified community health clinics to offer, along with treatment, needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users to prevent blood-borne diseases.

HB 1491 (Naishtat) offered a bill to decriminalize the possession and use of marihuana for medical use when prescribed by a licensed physician.

2013: Changes in policies related to possession and use of illegal drugs continue to be a low priority for the state legislature, as proposed bills never made it out of committee. HB 184 (Dutton) would have changed possession of one ounce or less of marihuana or synthetic cannabinoid to a class C misdemeanor. This would have allowed a judge to defer penalties for the defendant who successfully completed drug awareness and education program approved by the Department of State Health Services. The bill was voted favorably by the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, but was left pending at the close of the legislative session. SB 90 (Ellis) would have allowed for suspension of the defendant not convicted of a previous similar felony or other felonies to be placed under community supervision that included education and drug treatment. HB 117 (McClendon) introduced in 2013 is similar to a bill filed as far back as 2007. The bill did make it out of committee and was sent to Calendars April 13, 2013. The aim of the bill was to prevent and reduce the risk of blood-borne disease. The bill would have allowed for a pilot program for anonymous exchange of needles and syringes and offer education on transmission of blood-borne diseases assist in obtaining substance treatment services, and blood-borne testing services.

2015 There was more support by the 84th Legislature for medical use of marijuana when prescribed by a licensed physician than in previous legislative sessions. SB339 (Eltife) passed and was signed by the governor, allowing for the dispensing of low-THC cannabis by a licensed organization. Though this is a limited victory for allowing the use of marihuana for medical purposes, it will benefit children with intractable epilepsy. Three other bills supported by LWV-TX introduced failed relating to the use of marihuana for medical purposes when prescribed by a licensed physician. One bill HB 892 (Klick/ Zerwas/ Zedler) was voted favorably out of committee and made it to the general calendar, but did not come up for a floor vote. Bills HB 3785 (Marquez), HB 837 (Naishtat) SB 1839 (Menendez) were left pending in committee. Testimony supporting HB 837 and HB 3785 was given in a hearing by the House Public Health Committee by LWV-TX.

Two bill introduced did address lowering the civil penalty for certain amounts of marijuana. Bill HB 507 (Moody) related to reducing civil penalty for possession of certain amounts of marijuana and gained some traction as it was voted favorably out of committee. The bill allowed the court to waive or reduce civil penalty if the person attends a program that provides education for substance abuse. LWV-TX gave testimony at a hearing by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee supporting HB 507. The bill was placed on the general calendar, but did not come up for a vote. A companion bill SB 1417(Ellis) failed to make out of committee for consideration.