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How will cannabis legalization factor into an uncertain Texas election cycle?

Texas building

Depending on how you perceive the past few months, Texas may be heading towards a minor liberal reform, or the conservatives could be doubling down on its dominance.

The past few months, ranging from gun tragedies to legal decisions to special elections, highlight a busy and somewhat unclear Texas political landscape heading into November. (Benzinga)

The recent back-and-forth momentum leaves most sources uncertain where Texas will stand post-Election Day. However, many appear firm on two points:

Texans are frustrated, and most support legalizing cannabis.

Much messing with Texas

No matter the outcome this Fall, Texas will remain an overwhelmingly conservative-held Congress. The state has deep GOP ties, with Republican Presidential nominees taking the state in every election since 1980.

Still, with frustrations running high across the board, changes of some kind could be on the horizon.

February data from the Texas Politics Project listed border security (19%), immigration (12%), COVID-19 (11%), political corruption (9%) and the economy (6%) as its top five voter issues.

March results from the 2022 Texas Lyceum Poll cited border security (14%) as the top trouble spot. Inflation, political corruption/leadership and energy prices are all tied at 9%. Cannabis legalization was not mentioned in the list of 25 concerns.

"From the shaky electric grid to health care access, the economy, endemic corruption, and gun violence, issues are swamping the Texas election cycle," said Susan Hays, a Democratic candidate for Agriculture Department Commissioner.

Hays said the typical voter likely places cannabis somewhere in the middle of their priorities this voting cycle.

"But voters consistently raise cannabis reform as an important issue for them," she said.

Jax James, NORML state policy manager said cannabis legalization "definitely" falls behind gun and abortion rights, adding that property taxes could also be considered a higher priority to most Texans.

James said the state's current surplus may make legalization less of a concern to those outside of advocates. In July 2021, state Comptroller Glenn Hegar projected Texas would have a $7.85 billion surplus for the 2022-2023 biennium.

"The desire to have legal market revenue is not as big as it could, perhaps," said James.

How cannabis policy fits into the discussion

Texans have come around on legalization and now seem to be waiting on key lawmakers to do the same. Across the aisle, voters have supported a legal market expansion for some time.

"Overarchingly, cannabis is truly a fairly bipartisan issue here in Texas," said James.

June 2021 results from the Texas Politics Projects saw 60% of those polled supporting a small or large quantity possession. Just 13% opposed legalization in any form.

A May 2022 poll from The Dallas Morning News and The University of Texas at Tyler found similar results. 60% of those polled supported adult use legalization, with 83% favoring medical. 42% of identified Republicans supported adult use.

Public support hasn't done much to sway Gov. Abbott from previous stances. He prefers to see cannabis remain a Class C misdemeanor.

James blamed Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who has been linked to squashing reform momentum for several years.

"The Governor has actually negotiated with activists to get quite a bit more done than has passed," James said.

Others offered similar opinions.

"Texans do seem to want a more robust medicinal program, similar to Oklahoma, but the current Lieutenant Governor will not allow cannabis legislation to be brought to the Senate floor," said Matt Hawkins, founder and managing principal at Entourage Effect Capital.

Tristan Seikel is executive director of the nonpartisan group Decriminalize Denton, one of the cities taking up decriminalization in November. He feels that the rise of local-level policy and ballot questions is a response to stalled state-level efforts.

"People are organizing more and providing support for each other, I think, as a necessary reaction," Seikel said.

Medical advocates have also continued to push for changes to its restrictive market. In 2021, the Texas Compassionate Use Program expanded its coverage to people with cancer and PTSD. Efforts to include chronic pain were removed in the Senate.

Conservatives gaining recent ground

While Beto O'Rourke and cannabis reforms could win out in November, the state's conservative grip still appears strong.

"I can't even begin to speculate on how our election is going to go this year, especially with the recent news of a Republican flipping a historically Democratic district in the Rio Grande Valley," said Shayda Torabi, CEO of Restart CBD and host of the To Be Blunt podcast.

In mid-June, GOP candidate Mayra Flores flipped the typically Democratic seat during a special election.

The state GOP also made waves in June when its new party platform included claims against the 2020 election results, condemned gay marriage and called to repeal the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The platform also opposes cannabis legalization but does support rescheduling.

With results not coming for several months, we're left to wait and see what will unfold. While waiting, NORML's James reports knowing of several companies waiting to capitalize on what could be a lucrative Texas market.

Rather than just waiting, she urges those companies to get involved.

"The activists are here on the ground doing the work, and we need to make sure that the businesses and the people in positions of power are supporting that work."

 

by Andrew Ward

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