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Texas Senate Leader Blocks Democrat’s Attempt To Let Voters Decide On Marijuana Legalization



A Texas Democratic senator brought the issue of marijuana legalization to the Senate floor on Thursday, seeking to attach to an unrelated resolution an amendment that would’ve allowed Texans to vote on ending prohibition at the ballot box.

But the symbolic proposal was ultimately shut down. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, agreed to another member’s point of order, deeming the cannabis amendment not germane to the broader legislation.

As advocates wait to see what the Senate will do with House-passed bills to decriminalize marijuana and expand the state’s medical cannabis program, the procedural defeat raises some concerns that the anti-legalization presiding officer of the chamber will similarly move to quash more modest reform proposals.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D) did get a chance to speak to his amendment on the floor before it was blocked from consideration, saying it would offer Texans “an opportunity to vote on the legalization of the consumption and production of cannabis.”

The senator’s measure aimed to expand a provision of the resolution’s proposed constitutional amendment that would establish the right of people to engage in farming and horticultural activities on property they own or lease. He sought to add the right of people to “cultivate cannabis for personal and commercial consumption.”

Because the overall resolution would amend the state Constitution, it requires voter approval. In that way, if adopted, the amendment would have effectively given Texans an opportunity to vote on legalization as part of a broader change.

“I’ve studied this issue at great length,” the senator said, adding that legalization would generate billions of dollars of revenue, create tens of thousands of jobs and give people who’ve been criminalized over cannabis a chance to get “back on track.”

“Every state around the state of Texas has legalized cannabis,” he said. “We are losing revenue to those states around us.”

Gutierrez also blasted the Nixon administration, saying the former president was “the most impactful at putting a negative stigma on this issue” and that he ignored the recommendations of a committee he formed that urged federal decriminalization of marijuana. Instead, Nixon “cut a deal with Congress” to place cannabis in Schedule I under federal statute, “and it has not been removed since.”

“Our community wants to have this, and they want to be able to have the decision to vote on this,” the senator said.

Another member then questioned the germaneness of the amendment and raised a point of order, which Patrick said was “well-taken and sustained” without commenting directly on the legalization proposal.

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While the House has advanced marijuana decriminalization in this and earlier sessions, reform has consistently stalled out in the Senate under Patrick’s authority.

The lieutenant governor’s office has not responded to several requests for comment on the marijuana bills that passed the House last month, and Patrick hasn’t given any explicit indication that he’s willing to allow the Senate to take them up.

But to Gutierrez’s point about public opinion on the issue, nearly three in four Texas voters (72 percent) support decriminalizing marijuana, according to a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll in December. More than half (55 percent), meanwhile, said they’re in favor of broader legalization. Seventeen percent said it shouldn’t be legal at all.

A more recent survey from the same institution similarly showed that a majority of Texas voters feel that the state’s marijuana laws should be “less strict.”

On the local level in Texas, meanwhile, activists have succeeded in enacting municipal cannabis reform policies. And voters in San Antonio and Harker Heights will decide on local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives this Saturday.

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