Why is the Lieutenant Governor Killing the House’s Buzz on Marijuana Decriminalization and Medical Cannabis?
Talk of the Texas Legislature passing some legislation to lighten the state’s traditionally harsh marijuana laws have been in the air since long before the 86th legislature got underway in January. The expectations, cultivated by a combination of optimistic advocates and click-seeking news outlets, were fleetingly validated with the House of Representatives’ passage of Rep. Joe Moody’s bill (ultimately watered down) containing reduced misdemeanor penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and lowering the threshold for having those convictions expunged from one’s record.
The euphoria among supporters, however, was short lived.
The latest University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll, which Ross Ramsey wrote about in a batch of stories released through the week, covered a range of subjects and issues with an emphasis on the current legislative session. As always, we’ll continue to mine the data and connect it with happenings at the legislature as the session kicks into a higher gear, but below are a first set of observations, hopefully more than hot takes but certainly less than the in-depth treatment we’ll give them in coming weeks.
Day-to-day breaking news on the various aspects of investigations of Russian tampering in the 2016 election and (increasingly) how the Trump White House has responded to the investigation dominated the national political news this week, with the early week looking bad for the FBI but the end of the week looking decidedly worse for the president. The big story from the previous week, the negotiations over immigration policy and the government shutdown, hovered ever so lightly over Dan Patrick’s first border-security and illegal immigration focused campaign video, in which the Lt. Governor signaled very strongly that he’s still behind the president. Yet within hours of the release of the governor’s video, the president was signaling his willingness to trade a path to citizenship for DACA recipients for border wall funding – which provided Senator Cruz the chance to raise his head above the hedge to shout his dissent. In two developments that remain secure from the ever-expanding storm of national politics, the special school finance commission met for the first time this week, and the first batch of legally grown marijuana in Texas made news. Continue on for Texas data on yet another week in politics that veered very unevenly between mystery and quirky humor.
While Texas has ceded pioneer status to other states such as Colorado, Washington state, and, most recently, California (!) when it comes to legalizing the sale and use of marijuana, Texans’ attitudes toward decriminalization don’t lag far behind the national trend as much as inherited images of Texas’ cultural conservatism might suggest.
While it’s unlikely that the Texas Legislature will lessen penalties for marijuana use in the 2017 session, HB 81, a bill that would decrease the penalty for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to a ticket and a Class B misdemeanor, was passed out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday on a 4-2 vote with two Republicans in favor of the measure. Coincidentally, the first Democrat to jump into the 2018 race against Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, is the co-author of a book on the failures of the war on drugs, prompting Texas Monthly’s R.G. Ratcliffe to ask: “Is Texas Ready For Statewide Candidate Who Wants To Legalize Marijuana?”
Oil may be struggling to stay above $30 a barrel, but the Comptroller made multiple public appearances this week urging the political and business communities not to worry. We’ll see how that looks in January 2017. Speaking of not worrying, the Dallas City council is floating the idea of moving to a cite-and-release approach to possession of less than four (!) ounces of marijuana. Lest you think Texas is going completely in the direction of personal freedom, the Attorney General cried foul over fantasy sports betting, reminding everyone that key sectors of the Republican base are still very uptight about gambling...
Halloween is upon us, but it's already been a scary week for Jeb Bush and homeowners thinking about their property tax bills – but Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are trying their best to calm everyone down. Calm by nature, Dr. Ben Carson started the week off early causing a stir with his proclamation that he's against abortion in cases of rape and incest, while two of Texas politics' more animated politicians – Dan Patrick and Ted Cruz – essentially endorsed each other. Both Patrick and Governor Abbott also endorsed the legislature preventing so-called sanctuary cities in Texas, but not enough to require legislators to haunt Austin in a special session. Finally, President Obama followed the lead of Texas in pressing for a reduction in standardized testing – a treat for kids and their parents, who increasingly told pollsters they find frequent high stakes testing pretty ghastly.
With a new slate of statewide leaders in charge, key questions about the tenor of Texas politics loomed large as the legislative session unfolded. New polling provides some preliminary answers.
David Simpson's argument for more leniency when it comes to marijuana laws invites an examination of marijuana attitudes in Texas when broken down by how people describe their views of the Bible, given Simpson's reliance on the text for part of his argument.
Only 28 percent of Texans say they are opposed to legalization of marijuana for any reason. Most would OK it for medicinal use, and nearly half would approve it for recreational use. But the state's most conservative voters are not likely to go along.