A constant recurring question asked is, “when will Texas legalize marijuana?” It’s the number one search engine query for Texas Cannabis Report, and many wonder not just when it will happen, but if it will happen this year.
Very few ask now IF it will happen. It is only a matter of when, and legalization opponents even concede that there is no stopping the momentum that activists have started. It’s going to happen in Texas, but knowing exactly when that will happen is hard to say, but rest assured, it’s sooner than many think.
Let’s start with answering the question of the day.
Will Texas legalize marijuana in 2014? The answer is a firm no. This is because the Texas legislature only meets every other year on odd-numbered years. The last legislative session was in 2013, the next one will be in 2015. No bills can be considered until the new session next year.
That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to do this year though.
Being that 2014 is a mid-term election year, voter turnout is lower than normal. More people turn out for the presidential election cycles than any other election. Elections are made by the few who show up.
This year is the time where activists are working to influence policy stances by candidates concerning marijuana, and getting pro-cannabis candidates elected.
So far, just about all successful or near-successful efforts to legalize marijuana have come from ballot initiatives. This means collecting signatures to get a legalization bill placed on the ballot for people to vote on during an election. Texas does not have such a process.
In order to have new laws enacted in Texas, a legislator must draft and submit a bill during the filing period before the new legislative session begins. That bill is then read and referred to a committee. The committee hears testimony on the bill and then can do one of three things. They can either vote for it, vote against it, or let the bill die in committee by not voting on it at all.
Should the bill make it out of committee, it gets sent to the calendar committee to schedule the bill for a vote. The calendar committee can either schedule it or leave the bill in committee until the session ends without voting on it. Once the bill is scheduled for a vote, it must be passed by both the House and Senate. Once approved by both, the governor must sign the bill, veto it, or let it sit unsigned for 10 days after which it becomes officially passed.
This is why it is extremely important to elect candidates who are willing to either legalize marijuana, whether it be recreational or medical, or decrease the penalties for possessing marijuana so that no jail time is involved. It’s also important to call your elected representative, express your support for marijuana law reform, and encourage them to take up the matter during the next session. Without these calls of support, these representatives genuinely believe that there is no support for the matter in their districts.
So, if the next opportunity for marijuana legalization in Texas is 2015, will it happen then?
For the past 10 years, bills have been introduced in every session to legalize marijuana or give medical patients an affirmative defense in court. Each session the bills gain a little traction, but given the recent success in Colorado and Washington, and the possible coming legalization in another 10 states, things will be moving far more rapidly from here on out.
It is unlikely that we will see legalization in 2015, even though only 23% of Texans want to keep marijuana illegal. It is possible that we could see medical marijuana though, and even more likely that possession penalties could be decreased. It all of course depends on how hard activists petition their representatives and how the elections turn out in 2014.
There are several organizations working towards marijuana law reform here in Texas, with the two primary ones being National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
MPP, who has been the driving force behind legalization efforts in other states, is currently rolling out a new campaign in Texas. Their goal is full legalization within five years, which is three legislative sessions from now. Each session they hope to gain valuable ground on the way to full legalization.
The organization will be pouring a serious amount of money into the effort, about $200,000 per year, and hiring lobbyists to get the job done.
If people want to see Texas on the front lines of legalization next year, now is the time to act. Five years isn’t that long away, but there’s no reason we can’t make this a reality much sooner.
By: Stephen Carter
Contact Stephen via email at TXCann@gmail.com