Marijuana bills look to push Texas toward decriminalization, legalization in 2021


With the start of the 87th Texas Legislative session less than a month away, 20 marijuana bills have been filed as several lawmakers look to take the next step toward legalization in the Lone Star State.

Colorado legalized marijuana just eight years ago. Eight years later, 15 states along with Washington D.C. have now joined, legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use.

Arizona, New Jersey, Montana and South Dakota — the last two which are red states, notably — are the latest to jump onboard after voting to legalize marijuana in November.

While legalization for recreational use could be a long shot for Texas, at least in 2021, there are several bills that could inch the state closer to the goals of weed advocates. Here’s a look at some of the marijuana bills already filed heading into the holidays:

Decriminalization

On the second day of the filing period, Rep. Erin Zwiener filed HB 441, which would decriminalize the possession of marijuana for personal use, resulting in a citation rather than an arrest.

“Our current cannabis laws don’t make sense,” Zwiener said in a press release. “We’re leaving dollars on the table, wasting public safety funds on enforcement, and saddling Texans with unnecessary criminal records that harm their ability to find work and housing. It’s time to bring our cannabis laws into the 21st century, and I’m eager to get to work on reducing penalties for possession of cannabis.”

Zwiener’s bill is a follow-up to Rep. Joe Moody’s 2019 effort with HB 63 that passed through the House before dying in the Senate.

Decriminalizing marijuana has been a hot topic in Texas, especially after Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1325 into law in June of 2019. The law authorized the production, manufacture, retail sale, and inspection of industrial hemp crops and products in the state.

The problem? Deciphering the difference between marijuana and hemp isn’t easy.

While both hemp and marijuana derive from the same source, the law defines hemp as cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive compound found in the plant, which can be purchased legally. Marijuana is anything above 0.3% THC and is still illegal.

But, as prosecutors pointed out, they do not have the time nor the resources to differentiate the two. As the Texas Tribune reported, that is why the number of new low-level marijuana prosecutions in Texas was cut in half over the roughly six months after the law went into effect.

Austin added to this developing storyline in January when Austin City Council voted to bring arrests and fines for people caught with small amounts of marijuana to an end, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

While Austin police chief Brian Manley said APD would continue to enforce the law at the time, by July APD said it would no longer cite or arrest individuals with sufficient identification for Class A or Class B misdemeanor offenses.

Expanding medical use

The Texas Compassionate Use Act, as signed in 2015, legalized CBD oil containing less than 0.5% THC for people with epilepsy. That was expanded to include people with multiple sclerosis, incurable neurodegenerative diseases, ALS, terminal cancer and autism after Abbott signed HB 3703 in 2019.

Now, lawmakers have returned with several other bills looking to expand medical use in Texas once again.

SB 90, as sponsored by Sen. José Menéndez, a Democrat from San Antonio, would expand the medical marijuana program to include people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and several other conditions.

Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Democrat from Missouri City, filed House Bill 94, which mirrors SB 90 and brings the language to the lower chamber.

Sweeping legalization bills

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat from San Antonio, and Rep. Moody, an El Paso Democrat, are leading the charge for legalization in 2021 with the two most ambitious marijuana bills, SB 140 and HB 447.

SB 140, sponsored by Gutierrez, and HB 447, sponsored by Moody, would legalize the possession of cannabis for people over the age of 21 in amounts up to 2.5 ounces, or 15 grams of concentrate. These bills would also allow people to own as many as a dozen marijuana plants and implement the regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana use.

As reported by the Texas Tribune, Gutierrez and Moody believe the legalization and taxation of marijuana would play a role in addressing the gaping $4.6 billion hole in the state budget.

“As we see a number of states engaging around the country in a retail market, this is no longer an experiment,” Moody told the Texas Tribune. “It is also no secret that we are heading into some rough economic waters and we need to explore every possible revenue stream.”

It also is no secret that opposition is already lining up against these bills. While complete legalization for recreational use may not appear to be within reaching distance for 2021, Texas hasn’t exactly been stagnant on this issue.

Between the legalization of hemp and marijuana for medical use, as limited as it is, progress has been made recently. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting to see if marijuana advocates can take another step toward legalization in 2021.



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