Texas is one step closer to decriminalizing cannabis. House Bill 218, which received unanimous support, was approved in a 9-0 vote last week.
Texas’ decriminalization bill removes arrest and jail time for low-level possession of cannabis. It will also allow for the eventual expungement of records.
This isn’t the first time Texas has attempted to decriminalize cannabis. In 2019 and 2021, the House of Representatives passed cannabis decriminalization bills. The Senate, led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, shot down both bills.
Support for Texas Cannabis Decriminalization
Nearly 75% of Texans support cannabis decriminalization, according to a recent poll. Over half think cannabis should be entirely legal. Only 17% of Texans support the current criminal sanctions.
As it stands, House Bill 218 makes possession of one ounce a misdemeanour with a maximum fine of $500 and zero jail time. Currently, getting caught with an ounce in Texas results in a $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.
If the police catch you with two ounces, according to the Bill, they will not arrest you, and you can expunge the resulting criminal record for a $30 fee.
Seems easier to legalize it.
Texas’ Local Cannabis Decriminalization Efforts
Activists have already succeeded locally by getting various Texas municipalities to decriminalize cannabis.
Voters in Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen, and San Marcos passed cannabis decriminalization ballot measures last November.
Voters in San Antonio will have the choice to decriminalize cannabis come May.
Of course, Texas being Texas, there are anti-cannabis activists in Harker Heights trying to get a ballot measure that would undo cannabis decriminalization.
Likewise, in San Marcos, the outgoing district attorney is trying to overturn voters’ wishes.
Texas Decriminalizes Cannabis?
At the Bill’s hearing, Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody, who chairs the committee, explained how Texas would decriminalize cannabis if the Bill becomes law.
Essentially, “The person walks away lighter in the wallet but without any criminal record whatsoever.”
While it’s a step in the right direction, as Moody said: “I want to be very clear. This Bill is not legalization.”
Indeed, “Texas decriminalizes cannabis” isn’t a headline many expect to see. The Lone Star State is known for its conservatism, but consider the conservative case for cannabis legalization.
The Conservative Case for Cannabis Legalization
Consider these conservative arguments in favour of legalizing cannabis in Texas:
- Limited government intervention: Conservatives often advocate for limited government intervention in personal matters. Legalizing cannabis would be consistent with this principle as it would allow individuals to make their own choices about their substance use without government interference.
- Fiscal responsibility: Legalizing cannabis would generate significant tax revenue for the state. The government could use this revenue to fund conservative priorities such as reducing the state’s debt, improving infrastructure, or increasing funding for police.
- Individual freedom and responsibility: Conservatives believe in personal liberty and responsibility. Legalizing cannabis would allow individuals to make their own decisions about their use of the substance while also holding them accountable for any harmful consequences that may arise.
- Criminal justice reform: Many conservatives have increasingly become proponents of criminal justice reform, particularly in reducing the number of non-violent offenders in the criminal justice system. Legalizing cannabis would reduce the number of individuals incarcerated for non-violent drug offences.
- States’ rights: Conservatives have long been advocates of states’ rights and decentralization of power. Legalizing cannabis would allow Texas to make its own decisions about the substance without interference from the federal government. This would be consistent with conservative principles of limited government and local control.
A legal or decriminalized Texas cannabis market could set an example for the world to follow.
Imagine a legal cannabis market that aligns with principles of limited government intervention, fiscal responsibility, individual freedom and responsibility, criminal justice reform, and states’ rights.
The Texas Republican Party endorsed decriminalized cannabis in 2018. Now is the time to follow through.