With nearly a dozen pot policy reform bills currently under consideration in the Texas legislature, Democratic Rep. James Talarico took advantage of the 420 high holiday on Tuesday as an opportunity to promote his recent move to get the ball rolling on Texas cannabis legalization. While the cannabis community was reveling in its celebration of the plant, Talarico turned to social media to share the news of a bill he filed last month.
“Happy 4/20! I’ve filed legislation to legalize cannabis, expunge past marijuana convictions, and use the new tax revenue to fund early childhood education,” Talarico tweeted on Tuesday.
To back up his push for Texas cannabis legalization, he went on to share public opinion data collected by the Texas Tribune in a recent survey, tweeting “this is a popular bipartisan idea. According to the latest polling, 60% of Texans support the full legalization of marijuana. Only 13% said it should be completely illegal.”
The member of the Texas House of Representatives also noted that human beings have been reaping the health benefits of cannabis for more than 3,000 years and that the herb can be used to treat a host of maladies including chronic pain, depression, and addiction. Talarico also posted that the commonly held notion that cannabis is a gateway drug to more dangerous substances has been thoroughly debunked.
“In fact, medical research suggests alcohol and tobacco are far more dangerous to our health than cannabis,” he wrote.
Talarico also said that cannabis “legalization is part of ending the racist war on drugs that continues to target” communities of color, tweeting that “Black Americans are 4x more likely than White Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession even though both groups consume marijuana at the same rate.”
Can The Texas Cannabis Legalization Bill Succeed?
On March 12, Talarico introduced House Bill 4089 in the Texas House of Representatives. In his 4/20 Twitter thread, he said that the measure is “one of many great marijuana reform bills” that have been filed for the current legislative session.
A total of nine cannabis policy reform measures have been filed in the legislature, although full legalization bills like Talarico’s are likely to be a hard sell in Texas. But other legislation that would reduce the penalties for marijuana possession or expand the state’s limited medicinal cannabis program could garner more support from lawmakers.
Heather Fazio, the director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, noted that a recent survey by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs revealed that only 14% of Texans support the state’s current laws governing the possession of cannabis. She said that many voters would prefer that limited government resources be spent on more serious problems.
“We see a majority of Texas voters would rather see law enforcement, public safety resources put toward victims of real crime,” Fazio said.
In addition to the new Texas cannabis legalization bill, earlier this month, a decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to one ounce of cannabis a Class C misdemeanor punishable by only a fine was approved by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Under that bill, law enforcement officers would not be permitted to make arrests for low-level possession cases. Fazio said that such cannabis policy reform will help eliminate the negative impact of arrests for minor marijuana offenses, which can affect access to employment and social services.
“We’re seeing so many people still being arrested and prosecuted and hindered by convictions that have lasting collateral consequences,” she said.
The goal of another measure under consideration is to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, which currently only allows low-THC CBD oil for patients with a limited number of qualifying conditions. That bill “would expand the program by adding qualifying conditions and allowing access to 5 percent THC, so more of a stronger dose of medical cannabis,” Fazio said.
Although the bills have bipartisan support in the House, they face a tougher challenge in the Texas Senate. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the upper body of the state legislature, has killed several previous cannabis reform bills that have made it to the Senate.