Everything is bigger in Texas — just not when it comes to marijuana.
It has been five years since the state put a restrictive medical marijuana program on the books, one that caters only to the sickest of the sick and still only services roughly 3,000 people. The program is so measly by today’s stoner standards that we don’t hear too much about it.
Meanwhile, Texas police are still arresting close to 100,000 people every year for weed. So, don’t you dare mention legalizing marijuana like they are doing in those northern states. No sir, most officials just aren’t about that life. But it’s a brand spanking new year, and lawmakers are pushing a slew of pot-related measures that they hope will turn Texas into the Stoned Star State.
There have already been somewhere around 20 pot-related bills filed in the state legislature. Some look to decriminalize the herb and keep non-violent marijuana arrests to a minimum. Others will try to expand the medical marijuana program to serve more people. Lawmakers are also throwing caution to the wind and attempting to legalize the leaf in a manner similar to alcohol.
And while most of this legislation will bite the dust soon after the 87th session begins, lawmakers think that some might stick.
Senator José Menéndez would like to see his bill (SB 90), which calls for an expansion of the state’s failing medical marijuana program, make it out of the state legislature alive in the next few months.
As it stands, the state’s medical marijuana program allows people with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, incurable neurodegenerative diseases, ALS, terminal cancer and autism to gain access to CBD oil that contains 0.5% THC. However, SB 90 would enhance the program by adding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a few other health issues to the list. It would also remove the cap on THC and permit registered medical marijuana participants to engage in home cultivation.
It would be a positive move for Texas. Not only for patients wanting to use marijuana as an alternative to prescription drugs, but also for the economy. A recent study from Research Dive shows that expanding statewide medical marijuana programs can stimulate economies ravaged by COVID.
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On the other hand, some lawmakers think it is time to grab the bull by the horns and establish a taxed and regulated marijuana market.
Representative Joe Moody recently introduced a bill designed to legalize marijuana for people 21 and over. The bill would allow adults to grow a certain number of plants at home for personal use. It also calls for the tax revenue generated from the legal cannabis industry to go towards a public school teacher’s fund. Furthermore, Moody says, Texas could really benefit from the jobs and overall economic boon the cannabis industry would ultimately bring to the Lone Star State.
“As we see a number of states engaging around the country in a retail market, this is no longer an experiment,” he told the Texas Tribune. “It is also no secret that we are heading into some rough economic waters and we need to explore every possible revenue stream.”
Another lawmaker believes the state might have a better shot at simply decriminalizing small time marijuana possession.
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Representative Erin Zwiener recently introduced a measure (HB 441) that would allow petty pot offenses to be punishable with a ticket instead of being dealt with in the criminal justice system. Considering that many state prosecutors have already started abandoning pot cases due to a lack of resources, lawmakers might be apt to support the creation of a uniform policy that stops people from getting busted for marijuana. It’s a plan that’s long overdue, Zwiener says.
“Our current cannabis laws don’t make sense,” Zwiener said in a statement. “We’re leaving dollars on the table, wasting public safety funds on enforcement, and saddling Texans with unnecessary criminal records that harm their ability to find work and housing. It’s time to bring our cannabis laws into the 21st century, and I’m eager to get to work on reducing penalties for possession of cannabis.”
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It remains to be seen just how far the Texas Legislature will run with marijuana legalization this year, but one thing is certain: residents think it’s a good idea. Some of the latest statewide polling data show that 62 percent of Texans favor legalizing recreational marijuana and taxing it for the benefit of the state. A recent economic analysis shows that doing so could generate $1 billion in annual tax revenue.
Now that’s what we call big.