AUSTIN, Texas. (Dec. 1, 2016) – Four bills filed for the 2017 legislative session would relax restrictions on marijuana in Texas. Passage of any of these bills would take another step toward effectively nullifying federal prohibition in practice.
House Bill 82 (HB82) and House Bill 130 (HB130) will be introduced by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston). The legislation would reduce criminal penalties for marijuana possession. HB82 would drop the penalties for possessing of up to one ounce of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor from a Class B misdemeanor. HB130 would reduce the penalties for possessing up to one gram of a controlled substance to a Class A misdemeanor from a state jail felony.
The other two bills ready for introduction are proposed amendments to the Texas state constitution that would set the stage for marijuana legalization. Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso) pre-filed Senate Joint Resolution 17 (SJR17) to fully legalize marijuana for recreational use and Senate Joint Resolution 18 (SJR18) to legalize medical marijuana for qualifying patients. SJR17 simply defines cannabis, the proper term for marijuana, and gives the legislature all authority to “regulate the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis in this state.” SJR18 is written in a similar manner, with the legislature given sole discretion over the rules relating to medical marijuana.
If the resolutions pass both houses of the legislature by a 2/3 majority, the amendments will be submitted to the voters in the 2018 general election.
“In most states that have passed reform, the voters are allowed to look at it on a ballot and say yes or no on reform. Here in Texas, we rely on our state reps to advocate for us,” Director of the San Antonio chapter of NORML, Luis Nakamoto said in a KENS5 report. “The mentality is changing and kind of catching up to the science behind cannabis, at the very least. So now there’s more support that the legislators can stand on and make those important decisions for us.”
The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970 prohibits all of this behavior. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Legalization of marijuana in Texas would remove a huge layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, Texas essentially sweeps away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Texas wants to join a growing number that are simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states earlier this month.
With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more.
“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
HB82, HB130, SJR17 and SJR18 will need to pass their committee assignments before they can be considered in the House and the Senate. The bills will be assigned to committees during the 2017 legislative year. Stay in touch with our Tenther Blog and our Tracking and Action Center for the latest updates.