A recently introduced bill in the Texas legislature may pave the way for select cities and counties to legalize recreational marijuana. House Bill 1937, proposed by State Representative Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas), would grant local governments the authority to decide whether or not to allow Texans 21 or older to use cannabis for recreational purposes.
As per the bill, an individual would be permitted to possess a maximum of 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The bill also outlines a 10% tax on all cannabis-related products allocated towards various initiatives such as cannabis testing, regulation, quality control, government oversight, and school funding. Representative Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) highlighted that while 21 states in the US have legalized cannabis, and 27 have decriminalized it, Texas is yet to embrace the potential revenue source fully.
According to a recent survey, a majority of Texans favor some form of legalization of cannabis use, and Gonzalez believes that such a move would not only generate investments for public education but also prevent unnecessary arrests for cannabis possession while creating job opportunities.
Gonzalez previously introduced a similar bill in 2021, but it failed to progress to a vote. The fate of this year's bill remains uncertain and may encounter a similar outcome.
Cannabis legalization in Texas has been relatively slow and limited compared to other states in the US. In 2015, Texas passed the Compassionate Use Act, which allows patients with intractable epilepsy to access low-THC cannabis oil. Still, the law remains restrictive, with only a few conditions qualifying for medical cannabis use. In addition, smoking cannabis is still prohibited under the Compassionate Use Act.
In 2019, Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 1325, which legalized the cultivation, processing, and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products. However, the bill did not legalize cannabis, and there are still strict penalties for the possession of marijuana.
There have been several attempts to legalize cannabis in Texas for recreational use, but none have been successful thus far. In 2019, the Texas House of Representatives approved a bill to decriminalize cannabis possession, but it did not pass the Senate. In 2021, a bill to legalize and regulate cannabis was filed, but it did not progress to a vote.
House Bill 1937, filed in the 2023 legislative session, seeks to grant counties and municipalities the authority to legalize recreational cannabis use. Still, it remains to be seen whether the bill will ultimately pass and become law. According to Jesse Williams, a local cannabis advocate and managing editor of the Texas Cannabis Collective, the likelihood of House Bill 1937 making it to the governor's desk is low. Even if it does, Governor Greg Abbott is unlikely to sign it.
Williams also pointed out some potential issues with the bill, including opposition from the cannabis community due to the proposed 10% tax on top of other taxes already collected by businesses. He expressed concerns that the added costs could make it too expensive for businesses to enter the market and too expensive for customers compared to the black market, potentially leading some customers to turn to illegal sources. Williams noted that similar issues have arisen in other states implementing cannabis legalization.
If House Bill 1937 were to become law in Texas, Dallas could be allowed to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. Dallas City Council members Chad West and Adam Bazaldua have expressed their support for such a move, stating that they would vote in favor of legalization if given the opportunity by the state.
Bazaldua emphasized his willingness to support the measure, saying he would vote to legalize recreational cannabis use in Dallas if given a chance. With the possibility of increased revenue and reduced law enforcement costs, some local officials and advocates may view the legalization of cannabis as a positive step for the city. However, as mentioned previously, the likelihood of House Bill 1937 passing and becoming law in Texas remains to be seen.
A recent poll by the University of Texas/Texas Politics Project revealed that most Texas voters support legalizing marijuana. In fact, the survey found that about four in five residents feel that cannabis should be legal for medical or recreational use.
Furthermore, the poll indicated that a significant majority of Texans (72%) would like to see marijuana decriminalized, meaning that the offense would be punishable by a citation and fine rather than jail time.
Overall, the survey results suggest that Texans are enthusiastic about marijuana reform, with 55% of respondents indicating that they believe cannabis possession should be legal for any purpose, in any amount or small amounts. Only 17% of those polled said marijuana should not be legal, while 28% said it should be legal for medical purposes only.
According to the Poll, Democrats are the strongest advocates for marijuana reform, with 72% expressing support for broad legalization and 19% supporting legalization solely for medical purposes. Independents followed, with 57% supporting legalization for any purpose and another 31% supporting medical cannabis legalization exclusively.
Republicans were the least supportive group, with 41% in favor of legalizing the plant for any use and another 36% supporting medical marijuana legalization only.
The poll also asked respondents if they support reducing the punishment for possession or use of small amounts of marijuana to a citation and a fine, effectively a decriminalization model. A strong majority of 72% expressed support for this approach.
As the upcoming legislative session approaches, Texas lawmakers have an opportunity to enact marijuana reform. However, it remains uncertain whether the conservative legislature will heed public opinion on the issue or once again disregard it.
As the debate over marijuana legalization continues in Texas, it remains to be seen whether House Bill 1937 or any other reform legislation will ultimately become law. While a growing number of Texans support legalization, there is also significant opposition, particularly among conservative lawmakers. Nevertheless, the conversation around marijuana reform has continued to evolve, and advocates and opponents alike will continue to make their voices heard in the years to come. Ultimately, the fate of marijuana reform in Texas will be decided through a combination of public opinion, legislative action, and the views of key decision-makers in the state.