Earlier this year, Canadian lawmakers voted in favour of legalizing recreational cannabis use. Canada happens to be the second country to officially legalize marijuana – could this possibly mean that times are finally changing, specifically when it comes to legalizing marijuana in the great state of Texas?
For starters, Texas Republicans have officially endorsed cannabis decriminalization and medical marijuana use. And, Canada’s positive stance on cannabis legalization for recreational use is bound to affect the state’s position on the matter.
Even though the fact that Canada is a G7 nation which tends to offend some Canadian citizens, it is still America’s closest neighbor. A neighboring country that is not only run by a well-respected government but also a NAFTA member may encourage Texas lawmakers to unanimously agree on legalizing cannabis.
Law professor at the Texas A&M University, Frank Snyder, says that Texas may now be closer than ever to finally legalizing the use of recreational cannabis – however, it could be a while before any formal steps are taken to do so.
Also noteworthy is the fact that both parties in Texas have agreed to loosen up restrictions on cannabis in their respective platforms. Even though Texas has been statistically described as an ‘anti-cannabis’ state, this is a clear and present sign that not only political calculus but also public opinion are both shifting toward marijuana decriminalization.
It Isn’t All Sunshine and Rainbows
Despite these positive indications and everything that has transpired in recent months on attempting to legalize marijuana in Texas, the state will most likely not be the next California or Colorado, for that matter.
How soon (if at all) the state actually legalizes the herb is a matter that’s up for speculation and debate at the moment. But, given the how public opinion and political calculus on the matter has indeed shifted – advocates are quite hopeful that the shifts could lead to marked progress when the 2019 legislative session arrives.
For more than a decade, Texas lawmakers have fought tooth and nail to file bills with the sole purpose of ‘shaking up’ the state’s fairly rigid laws around cannabis use. The efforts, unfortunately, have yielded very little positive results, although things did take a refreshingly different turn in 2015 after Governor Gregg Abbott officially declared the Compassionate Use Act.
After the act was signed, a specific kind of cannabis oil used to remedy intractable epilepsy was legalized for sale and distribution across the state. As a result, there are now 3 dispensaries that have officially opened in Texas to blueprint and distribute the oil.
Although no pro-cannabis bills were passed in last year’s legislative session, the GOP convention held in San Antonio in mid-2018 saw advocates jump with joy. Attendees approved a plank in their platform, lending support to ‘a legal structural change which makes it a civil (and not criminal) offense for legal offenders to possess no more than an ounce of cannabis for their own personal use’.
That wasn’t the only silver lining – democrats who have been working hard as cannabis decriminalization advocates since 2012 also ‘tuned’ their platform at the convention, to support full legalization.
The same ‘new language’ that both parties are now speaking has not only been fueled by the public’s shifting perception on cannabis but also the fact that Texas marijuana may very well be a hot-button topic at 2019’s legislative session.
Shift in Perception Also Courtesy of GOP Grassroots
According to a Texas Tribune poll, over half of the state’s registered voters are in favor of seeing marijuana as a legal drug. In fact, only a mere 16% supported the view that the herb should remain classified as ‘illegal under any circumstances’.
Majority of Texas Democrats office hopefuls wish to reform the state’s laws around marijuana use – with many going as far as to see the substance legalized for possession and personal use. One renowned University of Texas professor said “it’s not every day that voters get a Democrat who’s not supportive of lax cannabis laws – reason being that nearly all of the minority party see marijuana and other drug issues as a public health issue, rather than an issue that revolves around criminal justice only.”
This is further reinforced by the fact that Democrats have admitted – that they’ve arrived at a dead end in terms of drug policy making – attempting to counter drug use and addiction issues by punishing people. So as it stands, the somewhat glaring failures around drug-focused issues and the popularity that marijuana has all over the US today, legal recreational seems to be an easy sell for Democrats.
More good news for those who are hoping to see the drug legalized in Texas – Lupe Valdez, a Democratic nominee, has not at all been shy about her pro-marijuana stance in the gubernatorial race; where she said that she wholeheartedly supports the decriminalization of marijuana, and wants to see it legalized completely, which includes legal marijuana sold as a medicine.
In an official statement, Valdez said that the issue of legalizing marijuana is a very important one and that it could open up avenues of valuable funding – and that Texas citizens ought to know if there’s going to be any possibility of that happening.
The war on drugs and the whole rhetoric on marijuana legalization in the US has been one of the causes of political turmoil between Republican Ted Cruz and his Democratic counterpart Beto O’Rourke.
Cruz does not favour marijuana legalization, and feels that the issue should be taken up individually at the state level. On the other hand, O’Rourke has been very vocal on the subject, being an enthusiastic advocate for legalization, even when he was a member of the El Paso City Council. In a 2011 book, he stressed on the importance of ending marijuana’s federal ban.
However, Texan Democrats pushing for legalization of recreational marijuana isn’t exactly unheard of. But what did surprise politicos was the Republicans’ stance on supporting more lax laws for marijuana use – since they dominate the state government ranks and have had a historical track record of not chiming in on the issue.
At the 2018 convention, the party supported and green-lighted 5 marijuana-specific planks to their platform – including one to decriminalize small quantities meant for personal use only. Another plank was added to request Congress to consider changing cannabis’s ‘Schedule 1’ categorization (which means it is currently seen as being more lethal than cocaine, LSD, heroin and meth) to ‘Schedule 2’
So at the end of the day, if you do see eventual positive changes in terms of cannabis legalization in Texas, you can bet it’s going to be a direct aftermath of the effort that grassroots activists and delegates are so feverishly putting in at the moment.
Making the Issue Visible on the Governor’s Radar
Even though marijuana legalization has not exactly become the pressing issue that it needs to be, advocates are positive that it will create waves in 2019. It is quite likely that various activist groups will try to coax legislators to consider a number of proposals, and among those will probably be one on legalizing medicinal marijuana. This will no doubt reduce criminal charges faces by those who are found to be in possession of small quantities of the herb.
Whether Texas joins the 22 other US states who have legalized small amounts of marijuana remains to be seen.
In several sessions, the Republican think tank has been in favour of cutting down criminal litigation for individuals found guilty of possessing marijuana in small quantities.
There’s no denying that societal attitudes and public opinion in Texas have shifted toward marijuana legalization – to a great degree, this has been the case due to the positive intervention of Republicans and conservatives – due credit ought to be given in that regard.
As we speak, Texas lawmakers are getting ready for a new round of marijuana legalization bout next year, thanks largely to the shift in public opinion. Eddie Lucio III, state representative for Texas District 38, plans to file a measure again, which previously failed in the last session – a measure that would further the Compassionate Use Act.
What this means is that medical cannabis would legally be made available to those qualifying for consumption such as patients of PTSD and terminal cancer. The bill, unfortunately, did not win any hearts at the House floor last year even though almost 80% of the representatives were supportive of it.
It’s actually quite likely that this measure will be given heed in 2019 because most voters in both the respective parties are in favour of seeing the Compassionate Use Act expanded.
State Senator José Menéndez, who is a Senate endorser of Lucio’s initiative and San Antonio Democrat has said that he is all set to make the move – he is positive that at the official hearing, the voices of his constituents will be heard.
He was also heard saying that he would do whatever possible to bring this one to the governor’s attention.