Texas Marijuana Legalization Has A Small Possibility

Earlier this year, I saw a tweet that mentioned that more than half, 60%, of Texans support the legalization of marijuana. Naturally, I was skeptical about this. Pro-legalization people tend to be overly optimistic, in my experience. I asked the source of the claim. The reply pointed to surveys by UT-Austin and the Texas Tribune. This is a surprising change from previous surveys, which topped out at about 42%.

The Outlook

2021 is a legislative year in Texas. Therefore, one would expect legalization to be taken up again as it was last session. Marijuana Moment has a post with the latest news on legalization legislation. So far, bills have made it out of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. There is also a general sense that House Speaker, Dade Phelan, is agreeable to reforms to state marijuana laws. In the previous legislative session, bills died in the Senate. There is concern that Lt. Governor Dan Patrick might allow the same to happen this legislative session.

Generally, if the Bill makes it to the Senate calendar, it will come up for a vote. If it does come up for a vote, Patrick faces the distinct possibility that the Senate will vote to approve. Whereas if the Bill is placed late on the calendar, or never makes it on the calendar, it will die without an opportunity to have a vote. This is a way of killing a bill without fingerprints on it. Such a move can come from the Lt. Governor himself, or by backdoor request from the Governor who might be faced with vetoing a popular bill. Given growing public sentiment, it is a risk for such a bill to come up for a vote and pass.

Assuming Lt. Gov. Patrick and Governor Abbott are agreeable this session, and they allow the matter to come to a vote, the Bill(s) would still need to be signed by the Governor. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has softened on marijuana penalties. However, this is no guarantee that the bill would be signed. A crafty legislator could have added a poison pill amendment that would make the Bill unacceptable to the Governor, forcing him to veto it.

The Aftermath

The focus of legalization, at least to the degree that Governor Abbott would agree to, is to reduce the rate of incarceration that result from possession of small amounts, less than 2 ounces, of marijuana. Law enforcement would not be able to arrest people for possession of small amounts, issuing a citation instead. This might help reduce prison overcrowding to some extent.

There is no telling what effect the legislation would have on marijuana smuggling from Mexico. There would have to be some allowance for people to grow their own in order to reduce the demand for imported marijuana. Otherwise, we might see demand spike. Although, some of that demand might be filled from other states that have already legalized and offer higher grades of the product.

Other concerns include the impact of legalization on medicinal use and industrial hemp. There are several bills in motion that address these matters. However, there is no telling which or in what combination they might be passed this legislative session.