The move toward legalizing marijuana is gaining traction across the country. While many states have legalized the drug in various forms, though, marijuana is still illegal on the federal level. That may also change soon. Is marijuana legal in Texas? While the state has loosened some restrictions, there continue to be questions about what the US House vote means for Texas.
The MORE Act
On the federal level, marijuana in any form is still illegal. However, in early December 2020, the US House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. This bill decriminalizes marijuana. Specifically, it removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana.
The MORE Act also:
- Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs.
- Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund.
- Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions.
- Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction).
- Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.
The bill passed largely along party lines, with a vote of 228 to 164. While five Republicans voted in favor of the bill, Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX) was one of six Democrats who voted against it. Cuellar indicated he cast his vote after speaking with law enforcement officers who opposed the Act. To become law on the federal level, the Act would have to also be passed by the Senate, which appears unlikely. Senators from Texas have been reluctant to support reforming federal marijuana laws.
Marijuana Laws in Texas
The state of Texas has loosened restrictions and expanded legal applications for marijuana in recent years, but some think that more needs to be done. At this point, marijuana is legal for treating certain medical conditions under specific parameters.
The Texas legislature passed a marijuana “Compassionate Use” law in 2015 that allows doctors to prescribe low-THC-level marijuana for epilepsy patients. In 2019, the program was expanded to include treatment for additional ailments, including other seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, ALS, autism, terminal cancer, and certain other incurable neurodegenerative diseases.
However, Texas has one of the most restrictive caps on the amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, that medical cannabis products are legally allowed to contain. Only six of the states that have legalized medical marijuana have THC caps that are lower than those in Texas, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
While Texas laws remain restrictive, marijuana is legalized for medicinal purposes or for recreational use in at least 38 states across the US. Some people argue that legalization in Texas could provide a much-needed economic boost for the state, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study found that if Texas legalized and taxed marijuana sales similar to the structure found in Colorado, it would provide a $555 million boost to the state in additional tax revenue.
State Senator Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat from San Antonio, has filed SB 140 which would allow recreational use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Gutierrez has said that such legalization would produce $3.2 billion in state revenue, along with 30,000 high-paying jobs, as it would boost employment in agriculture, manufacturing, retail, and distribution.
Expanding Compassionate Use
State lawmakers are filing additional bills in an effort to expand the reach of the Compassionate Use Program. They want to further expand eligibility and loosen some of the restrictions to closely resemble those of other states that allow treatment. They also argue that those with debilitating illnesses who should have had access to legalized medical marijuana have been challenged with strict rules, red tape, and burdensome barriers to getting the help they need.
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