Texas lawmakers just pre-filed nine separate cannabis reform bills for next year's legislative session, including bills to legalize adult-use and to further expand the state's medical marijuana program.
The most groundbreaking of these bills is SB 140, a bill that would fully legalize adult-use cannabis sales and use. The bill's sponsor, state Senator-elect Roland Gutierrez (D), argued that legal weed tax revenue would help the state recover from budget deficits brought on by the pandemic, while also creating tens of thousands of new jobs.
"There is going to be a budget shortfall to affect all Texans next legislation session, however, I look forward to working with my colleagues to offer a real solution," said Gutierrez in a statement reported by FOX San Antonio. "This bill will generate new revenue and create at least 30,000 high paying jobs. 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."
Last month, independent law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP estimated that legal weed could bring the Lone Star State over $1.1 billion in weed tax revenue every two years. And on top of this revenue, the state could rake in another $10 million a year in business licensing and application fees. The report also projects that a statewide adult-use industry would create an additional 20,000 to 40,000 jobs, which would help the state reduce its growing unemployment rate.
Gutierrez's bill is actually not the only adult-use bill to hit the books next year. State Rep. Terry Canales (D) and Rep. Ron Reynolds (D) both proposed separate bills that would allow Texas voters to decide on legalization for themselves. One of these proposals would have voters decide on legalization next November, while the other would delay the issue until the 2022 midterm election.
State lawmakers also proposed a number of bills to expand the state's limited medical cannabis program. Three of these bills would strike down the current state law that limits medical marijuana products to only containing 0.5 percent THC or less. Two of these bills, proposed in identical versions in both the House and Senate, would also add PTSD to the state’s list of qualifying conditions. The third bill would instead allow doctors to recommend medical pot to treat literally any condition – similar to Oklahoma's highly progressive law.
Two state Representatives have also proposed competing bills to decriminalize minor pot possession. Under current law, anyone busted with two ounces of weed or less can be jailed for up to 180 days, fined up to $2,000, and have their drivers' license revoked. Both of these proposed bills would reduce this penalty to a civil fine with no risk of jail time. One of the bills (HB 99), would also stop the state from revoking drivers' licenses in possession cases, but the other (HB 169) offers no such protection.
Another bill would attempt to protect Texans who are legally using hemp or CBD products from being prosecuted for marijuana possession. This bill would allow anyone busted for pot possession to skirt the charges if they can prove that they reasonably believed that the weed they possessed was actually hemp. Texas' recent legalization of hemp has already caused many issues for state law enforcement, since state crime labs can’t tell the difference between legal hemp and illegal pot. Since hemp was legalized, state prosecutors have dropped hundreds of minor possession cases for this very reason.
It is difficult to predict which, if any, of these bills will become law, but it is clear that most Texans are ready for legalization. This July, a poll found that 53 percent of voters favored statewide legalization, and some of the state’s GOP leaders are even coming out in favor of legalization. The recent election wins in South Dakota and Montana are also strong evidence that even conservative states are down with legal weed.