Key Democrats In Texas Pushing For Marijuana Legalization Amid Economic Downturn
With the state's budget in tatters and a coronavirus, Democratic lawmakers hope that the economic crisis could become an opportunity to persuade Texas to join a growing number of states that have opted to legalize and tax recreational marijuana use. This week two Texas Democrats, Senator John Whitmire, a Democrat from Corpus Christi, and Republican Terry Canales from Edinburgh, introduced a bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax personal cannabis use, proposing to put the question of legalization to Texas voters.
Computer specialists say the coronavirus pandemic has ripped a $4.6 billion hole in the state budget, according to the latest estimates, and lawmakers argue that a legal marijuana industry could raise hundreds of millions in tax revenue and create tens of thousands of jobs. Voters in a growing number of states have legalized recreational cannabis use, including four more this month, bringing the total to 15, citing its economic benefits. Marijuana arrests and prosecutions have declined in Texas since a law legalizing marijuana last year confused law enforcement and some cities have already eased their prosecution of smaller cases. We've seen the numbers in the retail markets, so this is no longer an experiment, "Moody's said.
Still, changes to marijuana laws are facing fierce opposition in the Texas Capitol, particularly from the state's two most powerful Republicans, Governor Rick Perry, and Senator John Cornyn.
A handful of legalization proposals that have been tabled in recent years have received little attention from lawmakers, and it remains unlikely that any legalization bill will make it through to the next session of the Legislative Council in January. In 2019, Patrick said he and other Senate Republicans opposed a bill that would have reduced penalties for possessing marijuana, calling it a step toward legalizing marijuana. An earlier attempt to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession failed in the Texas Senate.
A spokesman for Patrick did not respond to a request for comment on his position on marijuana legalization at the next session of the Legislative Council. Neither does Republican Kevin McCarthy of Beaumont, who is expected to be the next speaker of the House.
The Republican majority in the House, which overwhelmingly passed a bill to lower penalties in 2019, opposes legalization, Moody's said. But, given the trend that other states are following in legalizing and taxing cannabis, it is considered to be in need of action, given its potential economic impact.
A recent analysis by a cannabis law firm says that if Texas taxed cannabis in a similar way to Colorado, the state could raise more than $1.1 billion a year. Gutierrez estimated Tuesday that legalization could create 30,000 Texas jobs, and Moody's said the law could bring Texas up to $2.5 billion in tax revenue a year.