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Texas House Speaker Says Legalizing Marijuana ‘Could Be A Help’ To Budget Woes, But He’d Vote Against It

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Texas’s top lawmaker says that legalizing marijuana could be part of the solution to the state’s budget shortfall, but he doesn’t support it.

“It certainly could be a help. It could augment the shortfall,” Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R) said. “But I don’t believe it’s anywhere near a singular solution.”

The speaker added that he would vote against legalization, arguing that it “creates other financial costs outside of the benefit of the tax income.”

And besides, he said in an interview with Spectrum News Austin, the revenue to be derived from ending cannabis prohibition and taxing sales would not on its own address the state’s fiscal problems.

“The state budget in Texas is so large, there is no singular solution to a budget challenge,” Bonnen said. “So legalization of marijuana is something that should be considered next session by those who want to bring that forward, but it probably doesn’t produce a solution to the budget challenge that we’ll be facing.”

Watch the speaker’s marijuana comments, about 5:10 into the video below:

Legalization advocates see positive signs in the Bonnen’s comments despite his continuing opposition to the policy change.

“Even lawmakers who have traditionally opposed legalization are taking a more serious look at the financial benefits of doing so,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Our state is facing a budget crisis and it would serve us well to repeal marijuana prohibition, a change that would preserve valuable criminal justice resources and could bring in as much as $1 billion in estimated tax revenue.”

In 2018, The Texas Republican Party adopted platform planks endorsing marijuana decriminalization, expanding the state’s current limited medical cannabis law, legalizing hemp and federally rescheduling marijuana.

Technical snags at this month’s virtual 2020 convention prevented delegates from being able to finalize an updated platform.

Bonnen’s House of Representatives approved a cannabis decriminalization bill last year, but it later died in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the state’s legalization of hemp has upended marijuana arrests due to law enforcement’s difficulty distinguishing the newly legal crop from its still-illicit cannabis cousin. In the six months following Texas’s hemp law taking effect, marijuana arrests dropped by more than half.

This month, the Austin Police Department issued a memo announcing the end of misdemeanor cannabis arrests and citations, consistent with a measure the City Council approved in January.

In May, the El Paso City Council approved a plan aimed at reducing low-level marijuana arrests.

It remains to be seen what kind of cannabis reforms state lawmakers will consider when the new session begins in January. Bonnen is not seeking reelection this year, however, and so the prospects for marijuana legislation in the chamber will be largely up to a new speaker.

Congress Planning Vote On Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill In September, Sources Say

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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