Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Texas Republican Party Now Supports Rolling Back Marijuana Prohibition. What’s Next?

By Adam Dick - June 19, 2018 at 10:20AM



Over the weekend, delegates at the Texas Republican Party’s statewide convention voted by wide margins in favor of several roll-backs of marijuana prohibition. With over 80 percent support, the delegates approved three state party platform planks calling, respectively, for decriminalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, moving marijuana from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 of the United States government’s Controlled Substances Act, and urging the Texas legislature to “pass legislation allowing cultivation, manufacture, and sale of industrial hemp and hemp products.” A fourth plank, calling for some expansion of the state’s rather limited low-THC cannabis oil medical program, received over 90 percent support.

So what is up next for the state’s marijuana laws? Will the state government adopt the delegates’ proposals? Might legal marijuana even be coming soon to the Lone Star State?

This action by the Texas Republican Party state convention delegates is an indication of how far the movement toward ending the war on marijuana has come in America. Republican politicians, in contrast with the younger segments of Republican voters, tend to oppose rolling back marijuana prohibition. And Texas, where no Democrat has been elected to any of 29 statewide elective offices since 1994, has been reluctant to join the trend of states enacting recreational or medical marijuana legalization.

Polling suggests there is majority public support in Texas for legalization. Further, the state House of Representatives Criminal Jurisprudence Committee’s approval in 2015 of legislation that would treat marijuana the same as tomatoes for adults — a proposal much more radical than anything adopted in any state so far — indicates there is even potential for Texas to leap to the lead in rolling back the war on marijuana, though that legislation did not receive a floor vote by the entire House.

“Everything is bigger in Texas,” the saying goes. Maybe the Republican-majority Texas legislature, looking to the public support for legalization, will decide to bring the 2015 legislation to the state House and Senate floors for votes and live up to that saying.

Whether Texas next adopts radical legalization of marijuana or takes the more moderate steps recommended by the Republican Party state convention delegates, it seems inevitable that Texas will continue, as are other states, to take steps to roll back marijuana prohibition. Indeed, on the local level, roll-backs have been occurring in Texas in recent years, with local prosecutors increasingly deciding to significantly reduce the number of prosecutions they pursue for alleged marijuana law violations.

These and other local action may be the primary course by which much more marijuana prohibition roll-backs will occur in the state. After all, over 80 years after the end of the US government’s alcohol prohibition, a small portion of Texas local governments still have “dry” status due to their restrictions on alcohol sales, though more localities continue moving from “dry” to “wet.”

One thing holding back the liberalization of marijuana laws in Texas is the lack of the ability of voters, via petition, to put binding ballot measures on the Texas statewide ballot. Ballot measures are the means by which medical marijuana and recreational marijuana legalization have been adopted in most states. In two other “conservative” states — Oklahoma and Utah — that do have the means for voters to put such measures on their statewide ballots, we see medical marijuana ballot measures poised to win voters’ approval this year.

Politicians in Austin — the Texas capital — can likely hold out against the countrywide movement for major roll-backs in marijuana prohibition for only a short time longer, especially now that state convention delegates of the state’s dominant party have voted, by wide margins, for taking several significant steps to roll back the prohibition. Further, the days of countrywide marijuana prohibition are numbered, with likely five years or less remaining. Replacing marijuana prohibition, similar to what occurred with alcohol after its countrywide prohibition ended, will probably be a “patchwork quilt” of laws differing from state to state and even from county to county and city to city, with some laws more restrictive than others, but none totally prohibitive. The proper question seems not to be whether or not Texas will legalize marijuana. The question instead is whether Texas will legalize big, small, or local.

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