Marijuana legalization is expected to be the mostly widely discussed issue of the 85th Texas Legislature, with a plethora of bills pertaining to the subject already waiting to be heard in the coming months.
This is not surprising, especially considering the way the state’s legislative forces left the cannabis reform topic in the 2015 session, when it tossed every other marijuana-related measure in the garbage with the exception of a measly low-THC bill that allows only a restricted number of patients to gain access to non-intoxicating cannabis oil.
Even this modest legislation ended up on the books with no possible functionality. That’s because a mistake in the language forces doctors to “prescribe” marijuana rather that offer recommendations – an action that is strictly forbidden under the Controlled Substances Act.
There are 11 different bills pertaining to marijuana reform that have already been submitted for the 2017 session. Some lawmakers are hoping to fix the problem with the current medical marijuana law, while others are hoping to expand the scope of the program to service more medical marijuana patients. There are also a couple of measures lingering in the halls of the Texas brass intended to decriminalize marijuana possession, as well as an attempt to drag the Lone Star State completely out of prohibitionary times.
Perhaps some of the most interesting pieces of legislation to be heard this session are a couple of proposals aimed at putting the issue of marijuana legalization on the state ballot. Senate Joint Resolutions 17 and 18 would simply take the marijuana legalization debate out of the hands of lawmakers and let the state’s voters decide which way to go.
“The people should be able to decide what should be legal or not legal and help with the laws,” Corey Mendes, director of Southeast Texas NORML, told KMMT. “Texans would be able to say whether or not they wanted it, not representatives who are in the pockets of special interests.”
However, the bill to watch this session is one designed to eliminate the criminal penalties associated with small time marijuana possession. House Bill 81, which was introduced by State Representative Joe Moody, would simply make the offense a civil infraction, punishable with a $250 fine – doing away with the possibility of jail and a criminal record.
Although similar decriminalization proposals have failed in the past, the issue now has more support from the very lawmakers who previously stood against it.
“We’re spending our tax dollars on incarcerating [people that don’t deserve to be incarcerated] because they got caught with a small amount of marijuana,” State Representative Jason Isaac, who voted against a decriminalization bill in the 2015 session, told the Texas Tribune. “These are people that we probably subsidize their public education, we probably subsidize where they went to a state school, and now they’re branded as a criminal when they go to do a background check.”
There is also a possibility that the legalization of a comprehensive medical marijuana program could be a hot issue during this session. State Senator Jose Menendez recently submitted a proposal aimed at putting a full strength medicinal cannabis law in place for patients living with “debilitating and chronic medical conditions.”
“Doctors, not politicians, should be determining what is best for Texas patients,” Menéndez said in a statement. “This is legitimate medicine that can help a of variety people, from the grandmother suffering from cancer to the veteran coping with PTSD after returning home from war.”
Even if some of this legislation goes the distance this year in the House and Senate, it is not yet known whether Texas Governor Gregg Abbott would support any of these reforms in ink. So far, his administration has not said whether the Governor plans to support any marijuana-related bills in 2017.