San Antonio state senator proposes marijuana legalization as Texas faces budget shortfall

State Senator-elect Roland Gutierrez claims legalization would produce $3.2 billion in state revenue

A jar of marijuana. (WDIV)

SAN ANTONIO – Following a hard-fought victory over Pete Flores for the District 19 state senate seat, state Senator-elect Roland Gutierrez pre-filed a bill on Monday that would legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use in Texas if passed.

While campaigning for the state Senate seat, Gutierrez, a Democrat, made marijuana legalization one of his campaign platforms. In a news release issued Monday, Gutierrez said legalization would result in an estimated $3.2 billion in state revenue and 30,000 high-paying jobs, boosting employment in agriculture, manufacture, retail and distributing.

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Marijuana is legalized, either for medicinal or recreational, adult use, in at least 38 states, the most recent of which include New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota in last week’s election.

Texas has only begun loosening its tight prohibition on the drug in the past five years but still maintains some of the strictest laws in the country.

“There is going to be a budget shortfall to affect all Texans next legislation session, however, I look forward to working with my colleagues to offer a real solution,” Gutierrez said in the news release. “This bill will generate new revenue and create at least 30,000 high paying jobs. Our state’s economic future is uncertain and in order to best serve our state, we have to look at cannabis legalization as a solution and not keep going back to the taxpayers and raise their taxes.”

Texas' revenue has plummeted due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. The state faces a deficit of nearly $4.6 billion as they reconvene in Austin to set the next budget in January. The comptroller estimate shows drops in revenue from sectors like travel, retail and alcohol and beverage due to the coronavirus pandemic. The state sales tax is the largest source of revenue for Texas.

In 2019, Texas lawmakers legalized hemp, which is used to make cannabidiol, or CBD, a nonpsychoactive compound of cannabis. The hemp must contain less than 0.3% of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.

In 2015, Texas lawmakers passed the Texas Compassionate Use Act, which legalized medical cannabis with less than 0.5% THC for people with specific diagnoses, like multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Veterans unsuccessfully lobbied the legislature to include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as one of the diagnoses that qualify for medical marijuana use.

Public sentiment has grown in Texas for marijuana legalization, polls showed. More than 80% of Texas voters support legalizing pot in some capacity, according to a 2018 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

But Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have yet to embrace marijuana legalization and have not completely been supportive of expanding medical use.

In a recent visit to one of Texas' first medical marijuana dispensaries, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller did not express support for recreational use, but did say the program should be expanded for people who would benefit from the medical use of it.

The bill faces an uphill battle, requiring the approval of the state legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott. The legislative session will convene in January.

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