Texas lawmakers pre-filed at least 13 marijuana-related bills for the next legislative session, including a few legalization proposals.
Some of the measures put forward include decriminalizing small amounts of cannabis, allowing stronger THC concentrations of marijuana for medical use and a move to get a legalization question on the next state ballot.
Of the flurry of marijuana-related bills, the most comprehensive was submitted by Senator-elect Roland Gutierrez. His bill, SB 140, would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older and lay the groundwork for a legal marijuana industry in Texas.
Gutierrez, who still serves in the state House of Representatives, announced his bill via Twitter with a strong emphasis on its economic benefits.
A recent report by the law firm Vicente Sederbeg LLP would appear to back up at least some of Gutierrez’s claims. It estimated marijuana legalization in Texas would generate more than $1.1 billion in tax revenue over the first two years of a legal cannabis industry, if it followed Colorado’s tax model.
Gutierrez pointed to a looming budget shortfall, as announced by the state comptroller in July, as further proof of the need to legalize adult-use cannabis.
“There is going to be a budget shortfall to affect all Texans,” Gutierrez said, as told to Fox 29. “Our state’s economic future is uncertain and 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.”
Despite Gutierrez’s claims about taxes, under his plan marijuana sales would indeed be taxed at 10 percent. This money would be allocated toward schools, border security and local police forces.
Gutierrez’s legalization proposal isn’t the only such plan submitted to the Texas legislature ahead of the 2021 legislative session. Rep. Joseph Moody filed HB 447, which would legalize and regulate marijuana sales for adults 21 and older, while Rep. Erin Zwiener filed a complementary bill – HB 441 – that would decriminalize low-level marijuana possession. Moody initially sponsored the decriminalization bill in 2019, which cleared the House with a supermajority but made no headway in the Senate.
Aside from recreational legalization, lawmakers submitted two separate bills to the Texas legislature that would remove the 0.5 percent THC limit on marijuana used for medical purposes and allow physicians to recommend the treatment for any condition deemed necessary. Another pre-filed bill would ask voters to decide whether to amend the Texas Constitution to allow legal medical cannabis sales. One put forward by Rep. Terry Canales would put the question of full marijuana legalization to Texas voters through the ballot process in 2022.
Yet another would protect individuals possessing cannabis from criminal prosecution if it could reasonably be presumed to be hemp. Hemp’s legalization through the 2018 Farm Bill has led to untold confusion concerning marijuana-related convictions in Texas since law enforcement find it difficult to distinguish marijuana from hemp. In response, many district attorneys and state prosecutors announced they would no longer pursue marijuana-related criminal convictions, while the state’s largest law enforcement agency instructed its officers to no longer arrest people for low-level cannabis offenses.
While it’s too early to tell how the next legislative session in Texas will pan out, it appears that marijuana reform will feature prominently on the agenda. And it wouldn’t be a moment too soon. A 2018 poll found majority support for marijuana legalization in Texas, while a more recent survey by the Texas Tribune indicated 53 percent of registered voters are in favor of the measure.