An issue that’s become part of national political discourse recently is cannabis legalization. Ever since California allowed medical marijuana in 1996 and Colorado lead the recreational movement by becoming the first state to legalize recreational cannabis during the aftermath of the 2012 election, other states have followed suit, in either medical or fully recreational capacities. Even though Republican-led states anecdotally are not cannabis-friendly, certain GOP governors such as Ohio’s John Kasich and Florida’s Rick Scott have implemented medical marijuana programs.

 

Legalization, or at least more relaxed cannabis laws, keep low-level and non-violent “offenders” out of jail; on the financial side, Nevada made $3.68 million in tax revenue within the first month of recreational legalization and Colorado passed $500 million in retail sales as of last July.    

 

Texas Weed Legislation

Cannabis Decriminalization (txcann)

As for the largest GOP-led state, Texas has found itself in a rather peculiar situation. Although Republican governor Greg Abbott is notoriously anti-marijuana to the point where he’s stated that “marijuana will never be legal while I’m in office”, he recently started the Texas Compassionate Use Act which allows low-THC cannabis oil to be prescribed to intractable epilepsy patients. Additionally, the four largest cities in Texas have Democratic mayors who have implemented some sort of decriminalization program.

 

Starting on the very first day in December 2017, Dallas implemented a “catch and release” program, where those caught with cannabis within Dallas County will receive a court summons in lieu of jail time. While it’s not full legalization, this “catch and release” program is definitely a step in the right direction to keep non-violent offenders out of jail. 

 

In Houston, city officials have decriminalized cannabis possession in a landmark move. While the policy is only active in Harris County, “officials have said it could divert an estimated 12,000 people a year out of the criminal justice systemand use the cost savings — approximately $25 million a year– that’s spent prosecuting low-level marijuana to prosecute more serious crimes. Additionally, decriminalization measures would keep about 107,000 minor cases out of the courts over the next decade.

 

Decriminalization of Marijuana

Texas Cannabis (marijuana.com)

In arguably the weirdest and most eclectic city on Earth where Matthew McConaughey is as worshiped as Tacodeli tacos and Kirby Lane Queso, Austin has implemented a very similar program to the one in Houston. If caught with weed in Austin, then Willie Nelson will arrive and just take it away.  Just kidding. Truthfully speaking, those caught with cannabis will simply take a four-hour, $45 course and as long as that course is taken, no charges will be filed. Instead of being arrested and facing potential criminal charges, low-level offenders will be able to take the course over and over again.

 

According to Nathan Bernier of Austin’s NPR station, prior to this legislation, on average, 2,000 people were levied with low level cannabis charges in Travis County. Austin Police Department data suggest that these arrests unfairly targeted African American and Hispanic citizens.  In his coverage of the effects of the new legislation, Bernier shared that the diversion class discusses the effects of marijuana on the brain and body, symptoms of substance use disordersand how to distinguish myths from facts about marijuana and marijuana use/abuse.”

 

While the policy is only limited to Class B misdemeanor possession (two ounces or less), Travis County would eventually like to include Class A misdemeanor cases which are considered possession of two to four ounces. With three of the largest cities in Texas implementing some form of measure to reduce cannabis possession prosecution, this could be a major step to legalization.

 

Have you been to Austin? If so, Tweet me where the best tacos are at @CaptainKasoff.