Where Does Texas Stand On Marijuana Legalization?

Everyone has a strong opinion about the war on drugs. Is it worth the rising costs? Should drugs be legalized and taxed? Should we provide healthcare options to drug users? Is substance abuse a disease? Should drug users be incarcerated at all? Will the incidence rate of drug crimes go up if we stop sending people to jail for using or selling? There are a lot of questions to answer, and it seems like everyone thinks they have the right ones. Texas has no real plans to change its marijuana-related policies at the moment, though, and that irks a lot of people.

Most states have already decriminalized most marijuana-related drug crimes, instead instituting more relaxed cite-and-release policies that usually result in minor fines. Texas has the same policies, but the penalties are a lot more strict.

That might change in the near-future, as both Republican and Democrat policymakers seem poised to axe some more controversial policies and penalties–albeit likely not until 2019 at the earliest.

House Bill 81 would have knocked aside current penalties for small-time possession (of less than an ounce). Instead, you’d basically receive what amounts to a traffic ticket. Seems fair. The idea behind the bill wasn’t purely drug-related. Its authors believe that both policymakers and everyday citizens think it’s far past time to allow police to fight actual wrongdoing instead of performing legally-mandated arrests and issuing of citations to those who did no real harm to the communities in which they live. Unfortunately, even though House Bill 81 passed the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee four to two, it was eventually stalled out by the Texas Freedom Caucus along with dozens of other bills.

When the deadline to sign the bill into law passed, the bill was forfeit. Don’t you love politics?

House Bill 2107 would have paved the way for medicinal marijuana reform, but ended up never even scheduled. As a result, dozens of veterans offered their stories to a committee hearing on the bill. Who more deserves a chance to live normally than those who have sacrificed the very freedoms the rest of us take for granted each and every day? Many vets use marijuana for medical purposes, but a lot of them don’t have the option of doing so legally.

Although medicinal marijuana remains a criminal offense in Texas, another failed bill would have allowed those charged with possession to argue an affirmative defense–meaning they could cite mitigating reasons that would justify that possession (such as a medicinal need for the drug). Yet another failed bill would have allowed industrial growth of hemp–a step in the right direction, even if we’re not quite getting there yet.

A bill that actually did pass was Senate Bill 339. Even though still forbidden by federal law, doctors can now prescribe low-THC cannabidiol oil for conditions such as epilepsy (an interest conflict of interest for doctors). Three manufacturers have since been licensed, and this could help pave the way for eventual legalization, especially since many of the other failed bills could see new versions written and put into law in the near-future. This is evident based on pro-legalization viewpoints becoming increasingly pervasive in both public opinion and lawmaker policy. It’s definitely time that state and federal laws catch up with popular opinion, but unfortunately updating regulations and changing some opinions is a very time-consuming process. How long will we wait before the right changes are made on a wide enough scale?

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.