Will Texas Ever Legalize Recreational Marijuana?

Texas is one of those states where we all think something is about to happen — again and again — but the desired outcome consistently eludes us. For example, Democrats seem to put the state into play in each presidential election, but it never quite shifts away from its Republican overlords. Marijuana-related laws are another such illusion. It also seems like legislators might take a step into the modern era, but they never quite do. 

This January, a record-setting eleven state bills will be put forth when the Legislature meets after their winter break. A similarly record-breaking spate of bills were put forth in 2019. All of these laws have the same goal: loosen marijuana restrictions. There hasn’t been much movement, though. The Legislature has allowed a limited number of individuals to use cannabis oil and others to grow hemp. 

Why hasn’t more changed? We can blame it on the fact that socially-conservative legislators control most of the forward movement in Texas. 

There is some reason to remain optimistic, though. For example, lawmakers need to find a way to make up the $4.6 billion windfall created by COVID-19 — a number which is only increasing now that the pandemic is getting worse by the day. Sadly, marijuana laws around the country have typically loosened restrictions only because legislators realized there was profit in doing so. It was sort of the same thing with gay marriage, and we know how that turned out.

Another ray of light exists because police and prosecutors both have a say in who they arrest and prosecute for crimes. 

Dallas Fort Worth Police Captain Mark Barthen acknowledged that his police force had discontinued the practice of arresting those caught with insignificant amounts of weed. He said, “We have only been seizing the marijuana. We are also not issuing citations in lieu of arrest like some jurisdictions.”

But even that was because of technical issues with “testing,” he explained. 

Those who were caught and prosecuted often skated because their attorneys argued that the differences between marijuana and hemp (which we mentioned was legalized) were difficult to distinguish. This made prosecuting marijuana possession harder. 

Defense Attorney Mimi Coffey said, “Since hemp is legal, how do prosecutors prove what they actually confiscate is hemp versus marijuana if they can’t test it?”

Policies regarding marijuana and arrests vary depending on state, county, and even city, making it even more difficult to find ways to effectively prosecute. If for no other reason, this could make the path to legalization in Texas easier.

Because the law only functions when prosecutors squeeze money out of those charged with crimes, it becomes a financial issue regardless of what your beliefs are on the ethics of marijuana. 

University of North Texas Department of Political Science Chair Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha said, “It’s a matter of time before we replace those individuals with more progressive conservatives, perhaps the ones who see the value on the more libertarian side of Texas’ political culture.”

In other words, many people don’t care which party resides in the state Legislature so long as they support what makes the most sense for the residents of Texas.