Will Texas Legalize Marijuana in 2021?
With Covid-19 blowing a $4.6 billion hole in the state’s budget, Democratic lawmakers in Texas are hoping to legalize and subsequently tax recreational marijuana use. However, with the state’s Governor and Republican-controlled Senate pushing back, Texans are not holding their breath about this possible scenario becoming a reality anytime in the near future.
A majority of residents in the Lone Star State want to end prohibition and legalize marijuana in Texas. Will it happen in 2021?
Two-thirds of Americans are now in favor of marijuana legalization, according to a Pew Research Center survey last year. The numbers are smaller in a state where everything is supposed to be bigger, but those in favor of legalizing marijuana in Texas have a small majority, as indicated in a poll taken by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune. In fact, in a 2019 poll, 54 percent of Texans were in favor of legalized recreational marijuana.
But some lawmakers in the state feel they know better than their constituents.
Follow the Money...
If legalization gets the green light, it would effectively raise taxes for all Texas cannabis consumers. This would be a suitable tradeoff for most individuals currently using marijuana recreationally or for medical purposes.
Texas state Rep. Joe Moody stated recently that legalization could potentially “add hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, if not billions.”
“As we see a number of states engaging around the country in a retail market, this is no longer an experiment.” He went on to say that it’s also “no secret that we are heading into some rough economic waters and we need to explore every possible revenue stream.”
Vicente Sederberg LLP, a prominent cannabis law firm, in a recent analysis, projected more than $1.1 billion per biennium if Texas were to emulate Colorado’s guidelines in the taxation of marijuana.
Gutierrez’s bill, appropriately named the “Real Solutions Act,” proposes a 10 percent tax on legalized cannabis products. This extra revenue could conceivably be used in funding local law enforcement, schools, and border security.
In addition to increased revenue via taxation, the bold move toward legalization may potentially provide up to 30,000 high-paying jobs for Texans, save the state millions of dollars in legal and penal costs, and direct law enforcement resources into more pressing matters.
Rep. Moody’s proposal for regulation and taxation would see most of the revenue funneled into teacher salaries and pensions, with some of the monies used to fund cities and counties.
“There is going to be a budget shortfall to affect all Texans,” Gutierrez said in a statement, according to Fox 29. “In order to best serve our state, we have to look at cannabis legalization as a solution and not keep going back to the taxpayers and raise their taxes.”
Moody and Gutierrez readily admit that the extra revenue from potential cannabis sales could be channeled elsewhere after legislation has passed, however, they acknowledged the desperate need for replenishing state coffers. Gutierrez goes on to say, “This is a need other red states have recognized.”
Responsible Marijuana Policy director, Heather Fazio believes it would be fiscally detrimental for the Legislature to undermine marijuana legalization measures in 2021.
Marijuana Legislation Proposals
There are at least 13 pre-filed pieces of Texas cannabis legislation on the docket for the January 2021 session. Some of those bills include making high-THC cannabis easily available exclusively for medical use, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and putting legalization before voters on the ballot.
If Senate Bill 140 and House Bill 447 are passed, Texans over the age of 21 could legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis, 15 grams of concentrates, and up to 12 marijuana plants at their place of residence.
Another potential bill would protect individuals from criminal prosecution for marijuana possession if they believed the substance to be legal hemp.
Edinburg State Rep. Terry Canales has suggested that the looming question of cannabis legalization be put to Texas voters. Sen. Roland Gutierrez and Rep. Joe Moody recently filed bills that would regulate, tax, and legalize personal cannabis usage.
If a full marijuana legalization bill moves forward, the manufacturing and sales would be regulated by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
Texas Governor and Republican Senators Opposed To Legalizing Marijuana
In spite of the many positive aspects of legalization, some lawmakers at the Texas Capitol are vehemently opposed to any progressive alterations when it comes to marijuana legislation. Surprisingly, even small measures, such as lowering penalties for marijuana possession meet with serious opposition in the Texas Senate.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is one of the politicians most staunchly opposed to any changes in Texas marijuana laws. Patrick is firmly part of the upper-echelon in the chamber and highly unlikely to change his views on legalization when the Texas State Legislature reconvenes to discuss the bill in January 2021.
Patrick and several Senate Republicans made their intractable views painfully clear in 2019, claiming that lessening penalties for possession would be, “a step toward legalization of marijuana.”
Legalization appears to be the last hold-out in the strongly opposed Senate. However, to be fair, a bill was passed by the Republican-majority House in 2019, to lessen cannabis penalties.
Harsh Texas Marijuana Laws
At present, under Texas law, possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana comes with harsh penalties.
- Personal possession is seen as a Class B misdemeanor that comes with up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.
- Anyone caught with more than two ounces may be subject to a year-long prison sentence.
- Possession of four ounces or more is considered to be a felony.
- Possession of any amount of concentrate with a THC content of more than 0.03% is a state felony that comes with anywhere between a six month to a two-year prison sentence.
The impact of the draconian cannabis laws in Texas is indeed shocking. More than 45,000 people were arrested in 2019 for personal possession of marijuana. Prior to hemp legalization, the numbers were considerably higher with almost 63,000 arrests in 2018.
Not surprisingly, the statistics point to lingering racism, as black citizens are 2.6 times more likely to be arrested for possession than their white cannabis-consuming counterparts.
Rep. Erin Zwiener (D) will sponsor the decriminalization proposal, HB 441. “This change has the opportunity to save local governments millions of dollars while keeping everyday Texans out of the criminal justice system,” she said on Twitter.
Texas Medical Marijuana Laws
Since 2015 and the Texas Compassionate Use Act went into effect, individuals with epilepsy were allowed access to cannabis oil containing a low THC content. In 2019, that Act was expanded to include those suffering from MS, Parkinson’s, ALS, terminal cancer, autism, and all seizure disorders.
The new medical marijuana law, if passed, will greatly increase the number of qualifying medical conditions.
Morris Denton, CEO of Compassionate Cultivation, a company based in Austin says the revisions “will give doctors and patients more in the playbook. They want to be able to have as many different options as they can.”
Under current Texas medical marijuana laws, products are limited to only small amounts of the intoxicating compound THC. In fact, most advocates do not consider these High CBD medical marijuana products to be marijuana at all.
Texas Hemp and CBD Laws
Although Texas is far behind in both the medical and recreational marijuana legalization trend when compared to many other progressive states, it openly supports a hemp CBD oil market in the state.
CBD is the non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in hemp plants which is now legally available nationwide.
Texas passed a law this past summer clearly stating that most CBD products are now readily available in the state. However, to the dismay of many providers and retailers, the lines surrounding the standardization of CBD products are still blurred. It’s still not clear if CBD is a herbal dietary supplement, food additive, or medicine.
So Will Texas Legalize Marijuana in 2021?
2021 could be a banner year for Texas cannabis reform, and legalization supporters remain optimistic.
Heather Fazio is one of those optimistic advocates as she reported to Marijuana Moment via email that her organization was “pleased to see a variety of cannabis-related bills introduced so early in the pre-filing period.”
“Democratic and Republican lawmakers are making cannabis a priority,” she said, “which is a good sign for advocates as we prepare for the upcoming legislative session.”
“I’m not sure that this is going to be the session that it happens, but I know that this session’s definitely going to be talked about,” Fazio said. “If nothing else, it jumpstarts the conversation about repealing prohibition, so we can have a conversation about how prohibition has affected the lives of people.”
All of these bills could bring about significant changes in Texas marijuana laws. Full marijuana legalization is by far the most dramatic and all-encompassing potential measure, but there are many old-guard flaming hoops that need to be carefully navigated by the progressive faction.
Let the 2021 Texas Ganja games begin…