As Other States Loosen Drug Laws, An ‘Incremental Approach’ To Cannabis Likely In Texas

One drug policy scholar says Texas isn’t likely to legalize, but could loosen penalties and expand compassionate use laws for those with medical needs.

By Michael Marks & Caroline CovingtonNovember 9, 2020 1:11 pm, ,

One outcome of the 2020 election was a loosening of some drug laws in several states. Arizona, New Jersey and South Dakota approved the use of recreational marijuana, and Oregon passed a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of drugs like cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine.

While Texas is far behind when it comes to legalization of any currently illicit drug, Katharine Neill Harris, a drug policy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, tells Texas Standard that that could change in the upcoming legislative session as Texas learns from the growing number of states where pot is legal.

Neill Harris expects Texas to take an “incremental approach,” starting with reducing penalties for possession rather than moving straight toward legalizing recreational marijuana.

“That would be one way that the state could start to see some benefits without taking that larger leap [toward legalization],” she said.

Neill Harris says there are public health benefits for looser marijuana regulations. Medical cannabis is known to help people with certain health conditions. She expects Texas might expand its compassionate use law to give greater access to medical cannabis to those in need.

I’m optimistic about the prospects this session for expansion of that bill to include more conditions, and perhaps a higher cap on the amount of THC that’s allowed,” Neill Harris said. “I think we are moving in that direction.”

There could also be economic benefits from loosening laws. Neill Harris said states like Colorado and California, where recreational marijuana has been legal for several years, have gained “a considerable amount of tax revenue.”

While Texas isn’t likely to move toward full decriminalization this legislative session, it is inching toward it. She says one bill introduced during the 2019 session “got further along than it ever has before.” Plus, she says public opinion leans toward legalization.

“I think that going forward, we’ll start to see more elected officials come around, especially because I think this past election has shown that even in very conservative states … that went heavily for Trump, voters still supported legalization,” she said.

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