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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp attends the Class of 1972 50-year reunion in Kyle Field on April 20, 2022.
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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Lawmakers propose weed reform

Graphic by Nic Tan

Around 70 bills for marijuana reform have been introduced to the Texas house in the last four months.

The 86th Texas Legislature, which formally began on Jan. 8 and will go on until May 27, has seen unprecedented support for marijuana reform. Unlike in past movements, recent cannabis legislation is seeing advocacy from both sides.
Nearly 70 bills have been introduced to the House in the last four months regarding variations of cannabis reform. While Texas has seen small-scale progress toward liberalizing marijuana usage both medically and recreationally, it remains far behind the majority of states. However, with public opinion shifting and political support growing, the 86th Legislature could have a chance to make amendments to Texas’ currently strict marijuana laws.
Texas has historically been ranked as one of the more conservative states when it comes to drug enforcement. However, with a growing wave of liberal support tied with extended advocacy for marijuana usage nationwide, Texas has seen recent strides toward decriminalization statewide, Ann Bowman, Bush School endowed chair in government and public service, said.
“In 2019 these bills appear to be moving, unlike previously, and that is due to the fact that so many states have already acted on this issue,” Bowman said. “Over 30 states have medical marijuana, and 10 allow recreational use. In general, there is a sense that this issue is maturing.”
Bowman said another reason is because of changes in the legislature and public opinion.
“There is a majority view that the public is more receptive to changes in the law that criminalize possession of small quantities of marijuana as well as support for expanding coverage of medical marijuana,” Bowman said. “It is kind of a sense that the time is right to really take up this question.”
While reform is being pushed by multiple House members, there is still variation in the changes they would like to see in district courts and federal enforcement, according to political science lecturer Dwight Roblyer.
“Some of the bills are asking for penalties to be lessened for possessing small amounts of marijuana, while others are asking to get rid of criminal penalties and make it a civil matter,” Roblyer said.
Bowman said this issue has largely been a divisive and polarizing one among both parties throughout Texas legislative history, but for the first time, thereis evidence that this trend is shifting.
“Democrats tend to be more in favor of relaxing the prohibition on marijuana, and it’s more likely that democratic legislators are producing this legislation,” Bowman said. “But some of these bills are sponsored by Republicans.”
According to Roblyer, Texans’ commitment to mitigate state expenses has been a driving force in gaining support from Republicans who traditionally have been opposed to weakening criminalization efforts.
“There are people on both sides,” Roblyer said. “Some are saying that this is an opportunity to save money and use that money somewhere else. Texas is a low-tax, low-spend state, so if they do not criminally prosecute these thousands of cases every year, they can save taxpayer dollars and funnel this money to be spent on issues that are more concerning.”
Roblyer said that while these are the attitudes of some conservative voices in the state legislature, there are still those who are holding to their foundational viewpoints about the harms of marijuana.
“Other forces are saying this is a slippery slope,” Roblyer said. “If the state backs off here, there will be countless numbers of individuals who would be using the drug who wouldn’t have been using it before.”
Even though the voices favoring continued criminalization are largely diminishing, one of them still holds a prominent role in deciding the future of legislation, Roblyer said.
“A lot of people think that some of these bills are going to come out of the House,” Roblyer said. “The problem is the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who runs the Senate, has been on record multiple times saying he has no interest in backing down criminal crimes for marijuana. He is the one who assigns bills from the House to certain committees. He could send the bill to the transportation or education committee and have the bill end up dying right there. Sponsors of these bills have their hands full trying to win over the lieutenant governor.”
There is still hope to change Patrick’s mind, Bowman said, as Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated support for marijuana reform. Still, any reforms will likely be relatively moderate.
“There probably won’t be sweeping reforms anytime soon,” Bowman said. “I think incremental is the way it’s more likely to happen. I think we will see the medical provisions possibly expanded, helping people such as veterans struggling with PTSD. We have to work through our legislators to see policy reform, so we will probably see gradual chipping away but not sweeping reforms anytime soon.”
In order to see more significant reforms, Bowman said voters will have to make change through political action and community effort.
“Working through electing people who have a different stance on this issue would be one thing,” Bowman said. “We can elect new members to the house every two years and new members to the Senate every four. We can organize and mobilize political groups to talk to their legislators. There as well may be new opportunities in communities to not act on state law until new legislation is passed, as it currently is up to the districts to enforce penalties.”

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