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Texas Lawmakers Pre-File Marijuana Bills For 2021 Session

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On the heels of five U.S. states voting to legalize marijuana in some form last week, lawmakers in Texas are getting a head start introducing a number of cannabis-related bills for next year, including several that would legalize it for adult use.

The legalization proposals are among at least 13 pieces of marijuana legislation pre-filed by lawmakers on Monday and Tuesday for the 2021 legislative session, which begins in January. Other bills would legalize high-THC cannabis for medical use, decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and put legalization before state voters on the ballot. Another would shield consumers from existing criminal laws for marijuana possession if they reasonably expected a product to be legal hemp.

Many of the bills would usher in big changes for Texas, which currently allows only certain forms of low-THC medical marijuana to treat specific conditions, but the legalization measure is by far the most sweeping. Sponsored by state Sen.-elect Roland Gutierrez (D), SB 140 would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and establish a commercial cannabis industry in the state.

Much of the incoming senator’s argument so far for the bill is financial. Gutierrez, currently a member of the state House of Representatives, said Monday that the measure could eventually bring a $3.6 billion boost to the state economy.

A report last month published by the law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP estimated that marijuana legalization in Texas could produce more than $1.1 billion in state tax revenue plus millions more in licensing and other fees. The state is estimated to face a $4.6 billion deficit when the Legislature convenes next year, the state comptroller said in July.

“There is going to be a budget shortfall to affect all Texans,” Gutierrez said in a statement Monday, according to Fox 29. “In order to best serve our state, we have to look at cannabis legalization as a solution and not keep going back to the taxpayers and raise their taxes.”

Technically speaking, the bill effectively would raise taxes on the state’s current marijuana consumers, although most would probably think that’s a good trade for not being criminalized any longer. Legal sales under Gutierrez’s legislation would carry a 10 percent tax on sales, which would fund schools, border security and local law enforcement. Gutierrez said the measure could also generate “at least 30,000 high-paying jobs” in the state.

Last month, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) jokingly said Texas should not legalize marijuana because he wanted tourists to come spend money in his state instead. “Make sure to consider Colorado first in any Texas decisions,” he quipped on Twitter.

Rep. Joseph Moody (D), who in past session has led efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession, is now pushing a separate broader cannabis legalization bill, HB 447.

This year, Rep. Erin Zwiener (D) will carry the decriminalization proposal, HB 441.

“This change has the opportunity to save local governments millions of dollars while keeping everyday Texans out of the criminal justice system,” she said on Twitter.

 

Monday was the first day for Texas lawmakers to pre-file legislation to be considered in next year’s legislative session, and more marijuana bills are expected to be introduced in coming weeks. Advocates are optimistic the activity means 2021 could be a big year for cannabis reform in Texas.

“We’re pleased to see a variety of cannabis related bills introduced so early in the pre-filing period,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment in an email. “Democratic and Republican lawmakers are making cannabis a priority,” she said, “which is a good sign for advocates as we prepare for the upcoming legislative session.”

The Texas Legislature only meets every other year, and in 2019 lawmakers considered a handful of major reforms, including decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana and expansion of the state’s limited medical cannabis program. By comparison, hemp, which is legal under federal law, includes all cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC.

The cannabis decriminalization bill passed the Texas House but later died in the Senate without a vote.

The state did legalize hemp that year, however, and advocates said they felt legislators took marijuana reform more seriously than ever.

Other measures pre-filed on Monday reintroduce the subject of medical marijuana reform.

HB 43, sponsored by Rep. Alex Dominguez (D), would expand the current limited program by removing the low-THC cap and allowing doctors to recommend marijuana for any medical condition they see fit.

SB 90, sponsored by Sen. José Menéndez (D), would also remove the state’s 0.5 percent THC limit on medical products and expand the program to include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as any other medical condition approved by state regulators. Lawmakers in 2019 rejected repeated calls from veterans and other groups last session to add PSTD to the state’s list of qualifying conditions.

A House bill (HB 94) from Rep. Ron Reynolds (D) would introduce similar language in that chamber.

A separate joint resolution (HJR 11) from Reynolds, meanwhile, would ask state voters to decide next November whether to amend the Texas Constitution to legalize the sale and use of medical marijuana.

Another joint resolution, HJR 13, by Rep. Terry Canales (D), would ask voters to legalize the use and commercial sale of recreational marijuana. Unlike the legalization Senate bill introduced by Gutierrez, Canales’s resolution is short on specifics. Voters in 2022 would cast ballots on whether to amend the constitution “to authorize and regulate the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis.” Details would come later.

Two other proposals focus on reducing state penalties for low-level marijuana possession.

HB 99, from Rep. Steve Toth (R), would reduce the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor, preventing arrest and instead imposing a civil fine. Such violations would no longer prevent Texans from obtaining driving licenses or automatically cause licenses to be suspended. HB 169, filed by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D), would similarly reduce possession of two ounces or less to a Class C misdemeanor, but it doesn’t include HB 99’s driver’s license protections.

Other decriminalization proposals that have been filed include HB 439 by Canales and SB 151 by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D).

Another bill prefiled on Monday wouldn’t affect penalties for possessing marijuana, but it would shield people who buy hemp or hemp-derived CBD products from existing criminal penalties for marijuana if those products were later found to contain too much THC.

HB 307, by Rep. Nicole Collier (D), would provide people charged with cannabis crimes an affirmative defense, allowing them to escape penalties if they could demonstrate that they reasonably thought the product was hemp. A product would need to be labeled as though it was legal hemp, and the person would need to have purchased it “from a retailer the person reasonably believed was authorized to sell a consumable help product.”

Prosecutors across Texas this year have dropped hundreds of low-level cannabis cases, due largely to difficulty in distinguishing between newly legal forms of hemp, which contain less than 0.3 percent THC, and illegal marijuana, which can be indistinguishable from hemp without laboratory testing. As the likelihood for cases to be prosecuted has dropped, arrests for simple cannabis possession have also fallen in many jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, popular support for marijuana reform, whether for medical or adult use, has only grown in recent years.

In 2018, even the state Republican Party added a marijuana decriminalization plank to its platform, although this year it was removed. The 2020 platform does still call for federal rescheduling and the expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program, however.

Polling of Texas voters, meanwhile, shows strong support for ending prohibition. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll published in July found that more than half (53 percent) of surveyed voters were in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use, while another 31 percent said they would legalize marijuana only for medical purposes. Only 21 percent of those surveyed opposed reducing penalties for simple possession.

In September, state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said he supported drastically expanding the state’s medical marijuana program. “If it’ll help somebody, I’m for it,” he said. “Whatever it is. I mean, a toothache, I don’t care.”

Across the country last week week, voters approved every major drug reform measure put before them, including marijuana measures in five states, decriminalization of all drugs in Oregon, and decriminalization of psychedelic plants in Washington, DC. Oregon also approved a separate measure legalizing psilocybin for therapeutic use.

The overwhelming popularity of drug reform among a largely divided electorate is already pushing other states to consider reform measures of their own, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment last week that the results are likely to encourage reform at the federal level.

On Monday, U.S. House Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) seemed to confirm that prediction by announcing that Congress will vote on legislation next month that would end federal cannabis prohibition.

This story has been updated to include additional pre-filed bills.

Congress Will Vote On Federal Marijuana Legalization Next Month, House Leadership Announces

Photo courtesy of Rick Proctor

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Louisiana Marijuana Decriminalization Officially Takes Effect As Lawmaker Launches Awareness Campaign

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Marijuana decriminalization took effect in Louisiana on Sunday—and advocates and lawmakers are working to ensure that residents know what they can and cannot do without going to jail under the new law.

Gov. John Bell Edwards (D) signed the legislation in June, and he emphasized that it was “not a decision I took lightly,” but he recognized that criminalization has had significant consequences for families and taxpayers.

Under the law, possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis is now punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of jail time. The governor has pushed back against the definition of the policy as “decriminalization,” but that’s exactly how advocates define policies that remove the threat of incarceration for low-level possession.

Now, the sponsor of the decriminalization bill, Rep. Cedric Glover (D), is partnering with the advocacy group Louisiana Progress on an awareness campaign to educate people about the new reform.

They’ve already put out a FAQ on the law and will be using social media and other informational materials to inform the public while also engaging in outreach to law enforcement and legislators.

“When I saw two city council members in my hometown of Shreveport—one conservative and one progressive—come together to decriminalize personal-use marijuana possession there, I knew it was time to take this reform to the state level,” Glover said. “Criminalizing marijuana possession is harmful to the people of Louisiana in so many ways, but it’s been particularly harmful for Black and Brown communities, lower-income folks, and young people. My fervent hope is that this new law will finally bring some relief and a feeling of freedom to those communities.”

Louisiana Progress says lawmakers shouldn’t stop at simple decriminalization and should enact broader cannabis legalization in an upcoming session.

“Marijuana decriminalization is an important victory for criminal justice reform in Louisiana, especially for the traditionally marginalized communities that have been disproportionately criminalized under prohibition,” the group’s new FAQ says. “But we need to keep fighting to end marijuana prohibition altogether. Doing so could be hugely beneficial, including bringing dozens of new small businesses and hundreds or even thousands of new jobs to Louisiana.”

Meanwhile, national advocates are cheering the new law’s taking effect.

“This is a much-needed policy change for Louisiana,” NORML State Policies Manager Carly Wolf said in a press release. “The enactment of this legislation is great progress toward ending the racially discriminatory policy of branding otherwise law-abiding Louisianans as criminals for minor marijuana possession offenses when law enforcement should instead be focusing on fighting legitimate crime.”

Separately, the governor also signed a bill in June to let patients in the state’s medical cannabis program legally smoke whole-plant marijuana flower.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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 legislation marks a notable expansion of the state’s limited medical marijuana program. As it stands, patients are able to vaporize cannabis preparations via a “metered-dose inhaler,” but they cannot access whole-plant flower and smoking is not allowed.

While the governor has made clear his willingness to approve more modest reforms, he predicted that he would not be the one to sign adult-use legalization into law before he leaves office in early 2024—even though he does expect the policy change to happen in his state at some point.

An effort in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize recreational cannabis stalled in the House this session after the chamber failed to pass a complementary measure on taxing adult-use marijuana. Edwards also said in May that he believes the reform “is going to happen in Louisiana eventually.”

“It’s on the march, and that certainly might happen here in Louisiana,” he said last week. However “I would be surprised if there’s a consensus in the legislature to do that while I’m governor.” (Edwards is term-limited and cannot run again in 2023’s upcoming gubernatorial election.)

In April, the governor also said that he had “great interest” in the legalization proposal, and he pledged to take a serious look at its various provisions.

Last year, the Louisiana legislature significantly expanded the state’s medical marijuana program by passing a bill that allows physicians to recommend cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.

Edwards signed the measure in June 2020 and it took effect weeks later.

The developments on various cannabis-related legislation come after recent polling showed that constituents in some of the most firmly Republican districts in the state support legalizing marijuana.

Two other recent polls—including one personally commissioned by a top Republican lawmaker—have found that a majority of voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use.

Senate’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Aims To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries

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Senate’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Aims To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries

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Senate leaders released a massive and long-anticipated infrastructure bill late on Sunday—and after weeks of bipartisan negotiations, the legislation includes provisions that aim to allow researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.

The bill also encourages states that have enacted legalization laws to educate people about impaired driving.

The language on scientists’ access to retail cannabis products was attached to an earlier version of infrastructure legislation in a Senate committee, and it’s substantively the same as a provision included in a House-passed infrastructure bill.

The measure makes it so the transportation secretary would need to work with the attorney general and secretary of health and human services to develop a public report within two years of the bill’s enactment that includes recommendations on allowing scientists to access retail-level marijuana to study impaired driving.

The cannabis provision stipulates that the report must contain a recommendation on establishing a national clearinghouse to “collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research that includes marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully available to patients or consumers in a state on a retail basis.”

It specifies that scientists from states that have not yet enacted legalization should also be able to access to dispensary products that are being sold in jurisdictions that have ended prohibition.

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) sponsored the committee amendment that contains these reforms, and he argued that the changes are necessary in order to promote research into impaired driving and create a national standard for addressing such activity.

Advocates have been waiting to see whether the committee-approved language would make it into the bipartisan negotiated bill. And the fact that it did stay intact following extensive negotiations between Democrats and Republicans who worked to craft the deal is significant. The Senate is expected to take up the bill on the floor this week.

If it passes, the amended legislation would then need to go back to the House for consideration before heading to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The bill says the cannabis research report must also broadly examine “federal statutory and regulatory barriers” to studies on marijuana-impaired driving.

The transportation legislation also contains a separate section that would require legal marijuana states—and only those states—to consider methods of educating people about and discouraging impaired driving from cannabis. Advocates take issue with that language simply because it targets legalized jurisdictions while ignoring the fact that marijuana-impaired driving takes place regardless of its legal status.

An earlier version of the transportation bill cleared the House last Congress with identical marijuana provisions but did not advance in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Since its initial introduction last year, some steps have been taken to resolve that issue. Most notably, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently notified several companies that it is moving toward approving their applications to become federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.

That marks a significant development—and one of the first cannabis-related moves to come out of the Biden administration. There is currently a monopoly on federal cannabis cultivation, with the University of Mississippi having operated the only approved facility for the past half-century.

But that move from DEA would still not free up researchers to access marijuana products from state-legal retailers in the way the transportation legislation would encourage if enacted.

While advocates are supportive of measures to reduce impaired driving, some have raised issues with the implication that legalizing cannabis increases the risk of people driving while under the influence. Research isn’t settled on that subject.

A federally funded study recently promoted by the National Institute of Justice also found that the amount of THC in a person’s system after consuming marijuana is not an accurate predictor of impairment.

Colorado Could Vote On Marijuana Tax Hike To Fund Education Programs After Campaign Submits Signatures

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Colorado Could Vote On Marijuana Tax Hike To Fund Education Programs After Campaign Submits Signatures

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A Colorado campaign appears to have submitted enough signatures to place a ballot initiative before voters in November that would raise marijuana taxes to fund programs that are designed to reduce the education gap for low-income students.

The Colorado Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) measure would give low- and middle-income families a $1,500 stipend to have school-aged children participate in after-school programs, tutoring and summer learning activities.

The state excise tax on sales adult-use cannabis products would increased from 15 percent to 20 percent to fund the effort.

Supporters say this policy is especially needed as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has exacerbated income-related learning gaps for students. But some marijuana industry stakeholders—and even the state’s largest teachers union—have expressed concern about the proposal.

In any case, the LEAP campaign turned in about 200,000 signatures for the measure to the secretary of state’s office on Friday. It only needs 124,632 valid signatures to qualify.

Monica Colbert Burton, a LEAP campaign representative, told Colorado Public Radio that the sizable signature turn-in “really demonstrates the broad support around the state for this issue.”

“The learning loss that we’ve seen during the pandemic is so much higher than we’ve ever seen before particularly for our low-income families and our students that don’t have access to the same resources,” Colbert Burton said.

Beyond imposing the extra five percent tax on cannabis, the initiative also calls for a repurposing of state revenue that it generates from leases and rents for operations held on state land. Advocates estimate that the measure would translate into $150 million in additional funding annually.

But according to an analysis from Westword, adding the tax to the existing 15 percent special tax would’ve only created $80 million in added revenue based on 2020 sales figures.

Some stakeholders and cannabis advocates have come out strongly against the proposal.

“That this initiative is being pushed at a moment in Colorado when the cannabis industry is trying to create more equity and bring economic growth to marginalized communities harmed by the racist Drug War is especially tone deaf,” Hashim Coates, executive director of the trade group Black Brown and Red Badged, said in a press release. “But that is to be expected when the backers of this measure are affluent white men.”

“Let’s just be perfectly clear: this is a regressive tax—which always harms Black and Brown consumers the most. This is going to a voucher program—which always harms Black and Brown communities the most,” Coates said. “And it’s targeting the marijuana industry as a magical bottomless piggy bank—which will devastate the Black and Brown owned cannabis businesses the most. Can we just let the black community breathe for a moment after this pandemic before we start taxing them to death?”

The measure is being endorsed by a two former governors, about 20 sitting state lawmakers, several former legislative leaders and several other educational organizations.

But in June, the Colorado Education Association withdrew its support for the proposal over concerns about how it would be implemented.

The next step for the initiative is for the secretary of state’s office to verify that there are enough valid signature in the batch LEAP supporters turned in.

This development comes days after Colorado officials announced the launch of a new office to provide economic support for the state’s marijuana industry.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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 division, which was created as part of a bill signed into law in March, is being funded by cannabis tax revenue. It will focus on creating “new economic development opportunities, local job creation, and community growth for the diverse population across Colorado.”

Gov. Jared Polis (D) had initially asked lawmakers back in January to create a new a new cannabis advancement program as part of his budget proposal.

Beyond this program, the state has worked to achieve equity and repair the harms of prohibition in other ways.

For example, Polis signed a bill in May to double the marijuana possession limit for adults in the state—and he directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for the new limit who he may be able to pardon.

The governor signed an executive order last year that granted clemency to almost 3,000 people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana.

Funding for the new office is made possible by tax revenue from a booming cannabis market in the state. In the first three months of 2021 alone, the state saw more than half a billion dollars in marijuana sales.

The lack of access to federal financial support for marijuana businesses became a pronounced issue amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the Small Business Administration saying it’s unable to offer those companies its services, as well as those that provide ancillary services such as accounting and law firms.

Polis wrote a letter to a member of the Colorado congressional delegation last year seeking a policy change to give the industry the same resources that were made available to other legal markets.

California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals

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