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Texas Democrats Say Marijuana Can Help The Economy, But Republicans May Stand In The Way

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State lawmakers argue that the tax revenue and jobs created by a retail market for cannabis could help the state devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

With a state budget devastated by the coronavirus, some Democratic lawmakers are hoping the economic crisis could become an opportunity to coax Texas into joining a growing number of states opting to legalize — and tax — recreational marijuana use.

The chances are slim.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio and state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso filed bills this week in advance of the 2021 legislative session that would legalize, regulate and tax personal cannabis use. State Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg has proposed putting the question of legalization to Texas voters.

The coronavirus pandemic has blown a $4.6 billion hole in the state budget, according to the comptroller’s latest estimate, and the lawmakers argue that a legal marijuana industry could bring in hundreds of millions in tax revenue and create tens of thousands of jobs.

Voters in more and more states, they note, have legalized recreational cannabis use, including four more this month bringing the total to 15.

At the same time, marijuana arrests and prosecutions across Texas have been plummeting, largely because a bill passed last year that legalizes hemp has thrown prosecutions into disarray, and some cities have already eased off on pursuing small pot cases.

“As we see a number of states engaging around the country in a retail market, this is no longer an experiment,” Moody said. “It is also no secret that we are heading into some rough economic waters and we need to explore every possible revenue stream.”

But changes to marijuana laws still face powerful opposition at the Texas Capitol. The handful of legalization proposals filed in recent years have received little to no attention from lawmakers. And even less controversial measures, like lowering criminal penalties for marijuana possession, have fallen flat in the Texas Senate. With Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a staunch conservative, at the helm of the upper chamber, it remains unlikely that a legalization bill will make it out when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

In 2019, Patrick said he and other Senate Republicans opposed the bill that would have lessened penalties for possession, calling it a “step toward legalization of marijuana.” A spokesperson for Patrick did not respond to questions on his current stance on legalization efforts. Nor did state Rep. Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican expected to be the next House Speaker, or a spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott.

Gutierrez and Moody recognize the powerful opposition to legalization in the Senate. And Moody said while the Republican-majority House overwhelmingly passed a bill in 2019 to lessen penalties, many have still resisted legalization. But given the state of the economy and more states following the trend to legalize and tax cannabis, they said action was needed.

Gutierrez estimated Tuesday that legalization could create up to 30,000 Texas jobs, and Moody said the legislation could “add hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, if not billions.” A recent analysis by a cannabis law firm said if Texas taxed cannabis similarly to Colorado, the state could take in more than $1.1 billion dollars per biennium.

Senate Bill 140 and House Bill 447 would both legalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis by anyone over the age of 21. For concentrates, the limit would be 15 grams. Texans would also be able to have up to 12 cannabis plants at their homes.

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation would regulate the manufacture and sale of marijuana, and there would be a 10% sales tax on any cannabis product. Moody’s proposed Texas Regulation and Taxation of Cannabis Act would funnel most of the tax revenue to teacher pensions and salaries, with some set aside for cities and counties. Gutierrez’s bill, dubbed the Real Solutions Act, would send the majority of revenue to school districts, with some set aside for border security and local law enforcement.

Both Gutierrez and Moody acknowledged lawmakers could shift where any revenue goes during the legislative process, but stressed the need for extra money in the state coffers — a need Gutierrez said other red states have recognized. On Election Day, voters in Montana and South Dakota leaned steadily toward reelecting President Donald Trump and also legalized recreational marijuana.

“[The states] are not exactly the home of liberal ideas,” Gutierrez said. “They see what every other state who has done this has seen: a source of revenue.”

Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, argues it would be irresponsible for the Legislature to not consider legalization next year. She pointed to a Pew Research Center survey that showed two thirds of Americans favored legalizing marijuana last year. Texas support is lower, but still at a small majority, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. In March 2019, 54% of Texans in the poll said they supported legalization of recreational marijuana.

“I’m not sure that this is going to be the session that it happens, but I know that this session it’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.”

In 2019, Texas law enforcement arrested more than 45,000 people accused of possessing marijuana, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. That number was considerably higher in 2018, before hemp was legalized, with nearly 63,000 arrests. A report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that in 2018, Black people in Texas were 2.6 times more likely to be arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession than white people.

Under Texas law, possessing any amount of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Possession of more than two ounces could mean up to a year in jail, and more than four ounces is a felony. Possessing any amount of any marijuana concentrate, including vape pens with more than 0.3% THC, is at least a state jail felony which carries a punishment of between six months and two years in the state prison system.

Medical cannabis is legal in very limited circumstances. The Texas Compassionate Use Act went into effect in 2015, allowing people with epilepsy to access cannabis oil with very low levels of THC. Last year, lawmakers expanded the list of qualifying conditions to include diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.

Moody, who for years has carried bills that aimed to decriminalize marijuana and make low-level possession a civil offense, said he moved to legalization efforts this year in part to start the conversation.

“We have done a very good job around advancing the conversation around criminal penalties and medical use. We have had little to no dialogue on a retail market,” he said. “As this conversation continues to grow around the country, and specifically in Texas, I think there’s lots of room for people to change their mind on this topic.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Mexican Senate Committees Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill With Floor Vote Planned Soon

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Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill

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The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.

While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.

News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”

The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.

“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.

Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.

It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.

Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.

And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.

Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.

Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says

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Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says

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Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.

“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.

According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”

Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.

Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.

At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.

“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”

The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:

-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.

-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.

-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.

”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”

Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.

The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.

Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.

Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.

He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”

The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.

Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.

Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.

Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”

“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”

The majority leader’s legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

Walz in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

California Senator Previews Next Steps For Psychedelics Bill And Says It’s A Step Toward Decriminalizing All Drugs

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Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’

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The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.

The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.

The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.

“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”

Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”

The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.

These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.

Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.

Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.

For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.

Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.

Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.

Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.

Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.

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